Powerline on Liberal Intramural Struggles

December 7, 2004

Deacon has an interesting post at Powerline about the internecine struggles that are likely to occur within the conservative and liberal communities between now and the 2008 elections. Deacon surmises that “the most interesting intra-ideology debate is likely to be among liberals and it will concern how to respond to Islamofascism (or whether to recognize the phenomenon at all).” In an “Update” Deacon adds that some liberals, like Peter Beinart, understand that liberals need to develop their “hard wing” — which I infer means they’ve got to do a better job proving they have a serious, credible approach to the War on Terror. Right now, understandably, the nation doesnt feel too comfortable entrusting the War on Terror to liberal hands — and shouldn’t.

Deacon says that whether liberals will rise to the challenge largely depends on world events:

If things go very well on the terrorism front, the issue may recede in the public’s mind, leaving little incentive for the Democrats to take the hard wing’s strong medicine. If things go very badly in Iraq, again the Democrats may feel they can regain power by virtue of bad news alone.

I have to agree that certain ironies accompany military and national security successes. If we are so successful that we no longer feel threatened and become complacent, then there will certainly be less urgency over our national security. And if the public trusts Republicans more to handle nation security, their success may work against them politically in the future. But as a practical matter it’s hard to imagine that we’ll be anywhere close to complacent about our security by 2008. Like it or not, we’re in this war for the long haul and we better get used to it. If Al Qaeda has proved nothing else, it has proved it is patient, methodical, and persistent.

If, on the other hand, things go badly for us in Iraq (or elsewhere in the war), Democrats could exploit the situation like they tried to in 2004, though I would think their naysaying would have a better chance of resonating after four more years. It’s one thing to be suppressing a terrorist rebellion a year and a half after we removed Saddam. But if it goes another four years the liberal “quagmire” mantra will definitely have some impact.

Nevertheless, it’s noteworthy that under Deacon’s analysis Democrats don’t have to step into the arena at all. They just sit back and wait for the spoils either way: victory or defeat. And when you think about it that’s what they did in this past campaign. They offered no constructive solutions of their own, but just sat around negatively critiquing George Bush for whatever he did. This was particularly outrageous considering that Kerry and most Democrats had in fact advocated the very action the president ultimately took in Iraq, based on the same intelligence he relied on.

It was only after Howard Dean began to gain traction through his antiwar posturing that Kerry began to come off his temporary hawkishness and tried to revise the history of his voting to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq. So he manufactured the lies that Bush lied about the WMD intelligence and further promised that he wouldn’t attack Iraq until he’d exhausted all diplomatic channels. This was the only way Kerry could save face through this otherwise embarrassing 180 on Iraq. But after repeating the lie enough I think he almost began to believe it himself. And he certainly convinced a lot of his Bush-hating followers that he was duped into supporting the war.

For those paying close attention, however, the duplicity of Kerry’s position became even more obvious when he simply couldn’t formulate a policy once we were in Iraq. He vacillated between wanting to escalate the hostilities with more troops and outright withdrawing all of them — and all positions in between those extremes. If it was such an unworthy cause, then — using his own shameful Vietnam-era words against him — how could he ask the last person to die for a mistake there? That is, if the war wasn’t justified when we attacked and still wasn’t at the time of the campaignn, why didn’t Kerry demand immediate, unconditional withdrawal of our troops? Kerry had himself tied up in such complex knots he couldn’t even get through a short interview without completely confusing his interviewer, not to mention anyone who had the misfortune to witness the interview.

But let’s get back to the issue of liberal intramural struggles over the next few years. I could understand Beinart saying that the ‘hard wing’ of the Democratic Party needs to come forward and get tough on terror. Remember Scoop Jackson and Sam Nunn? Once upon a time there were hawkish Democrats. But hawkish liberals? That strikes me as a contradiction in terms.

It’s not that liberals are never in favor of using the military. Clinton did so freely, indeed casually — gutting our forces while expanding their commitments. But in almost every instance he called on the military, America’s national interest was not remotely at stake. Clinton either used the military as a glorified Meals On Wheels outfit or to attack Serbia, which had not attacked us and whose actions against Kosovo in no way threatened our strategic national interests. When he did use the military arguably in vindication of our national interests, as with Iraq, he did so unseriously for the most part, lobbing a few cruise missiles at janitors in Iraq or aspirin factories in Sudan. Even if it wasn’t about “wagging the dog,” he sure didn’t seem too serious about using our mighty force. Zel Miller was not being altogether facetious when he said liberals like John Kerry (and Bill Clinton) will use pea shooters to defend America.

This illustrates why liberals’ opposition to the war against Iraq was so transparently political. They’ve rarely been heard to insist on a national interest to justify our use of military force. But with Iraq that’s all they ever talked about, once they had no other way to attack the president’s post 9/11 popularity. They kept saying there were no WMD — and thus no threat to America’s national security — and no connection between Saddam and 9/11, thus no national reason to retaliate.

Without rearguing those points (and reiterating my point that we didn’t have to prove Saddam had WMD; Saddam had the burden of proving he’d destroyed them), what about the humanitarian reasons that have always motivated liberals before? What about Saddam’s mass graves, the evidence of torture? None of that mattered to liberals because George Bush was president and they were not about to support a war for long that was making this president look good, no matter how much the people of Iraq desperately needed help and deliverance from this murderous thug.

So when it comes to hawkishness in the War on Terror, I’m just not sure liberals have it in them. And to be honest, I don’t think too many Democrats do either. They just don’t get it. They’ve invested so much time trying to demonstrate there is no connection between Saddam and terrorism, they’ve blinded themselves to the reality that our enemy is an international force. Saddam had common cause with these anarchists, whether there is concrete evidence or not tying him to 9/11. He supported the families of the Palestinian suicide bombers and provided safe haven to terrorists of all stripes. And if Iraq isn’t pivotal turf in the War on Terror how do you explain our terrorist enemies investing so many of their resources in this war?

There’s also more recent evidence that the Dems don’t fully grasp the gravity of our war predicament. The writers of MSNBC’s “First Read” today explained:

We’ve attended so many Democratic forums on the presidential election, we feel a bit like the Ed Norton character in ‘Fight Club’ — who enjoyed spending his time sneaking into a hodgepodge of different therapy groups. These Democratic post-mortems have blamed Kerry’s loss on morals and values, or on gay marriage, or on not being able to connect with “Heartland” Americans, or on not stressing the economy and health-care enough, or on not responding swiftly to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Yet strikingly, the topic of national security has rarely come up at these meetings; for example, at a recent forum sponsored by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, this issue wasn’t mentioned until an hour into the conference — a point made by moderate and hawkish panelist Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute. While values/gay marriage/the economy all probably played important roles in the election, we’d note that the Republicans focused most of their attacks on Kerry on whether he would be able to keep America safe. (Remember that Zell Miller’s keynote speech at the convention never once referred to guns, God, or gays; it was all about security.)

You see, even these mainstream media libs acknowledge that their cohorts in the Democratic Party don’t have a clue about the national security issue.

And my overarching point is that if they ever do get a clue, they’ll cease to be liberals. Hallelujah!