If you want to understand why the majority of Americans don’t trust the Democrats on national security matters, take a look at remarks by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin as reported in Tuesday’s Des Moines Register. In one fell swoop, Harkin proved himself to be morally clueless, strategically myopic, and politically expedient. Talk about hitting the trifecta.
Harkin began by imploring members of the Bush Administration to envision a future Iraq by looking at the Vietnam of today:
“Go visit Vietnam, as I’ve done several years ago, and find out how the people are getting along there,” said Harkin, who voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the president to take military action against Iraq, but has been increasingly critical since.
“They seem to be getting along fine,” he said on the Senate floor. “I still may not approve of the kind of government they’ve got, but the people seem to be getting along fine. Saigon is bustling. Hanoi is bustling. Roads are being built. Tourist industry is going up. Manufacturing is going up.
“It might not be the mirror image of our government but they seem to be doing all right.”
To suggest the regime in Hanoi, with its continued harassment of journalists, imprisonment of dissidents, and persecution of Christians, “might not be the mirror image of” America’s government is a bit like suggesting that Hulk Hogan might not be the mirror image of Shania Twain. That Harkin can barely make a distinction between the two governments is the most blatant example of his moral vapidity.
A slightly more subtle indication of Harkin’s moral cluelessness is his premise that suppression of political liberty is okay as long as the economy is booming. In other words, as long as enough people are prospering, it’s no big deal that some people are in prison for criticizing the government or practicing their religion. To think that Harkin once styled himself a populist!
What’s creepiest about his remarks is what they imply America should do about Iraq. Namely, do nothing. Just sit back and hope that in a decade or two Iraq will have a booming economy and Iraqis’ lives will be a bit less oppressive. Of course, we’d also need to hope that Saddam Hussein gives up his weapons of mass destruction and renounces his links to terrorism. Hope springs eternal, as they say.
Harkin continued his comparison of Iraq to Vietnam with the inevitable quagmire allusion:
Harkin said President Bush has begun talking about plans to build democracy in Iraq once Saddam is vanquished. He said the United States entered the conflict in Vietnam with the same intentions.
“We were going to end all this internal fighting (in Vietnam) and take care of the North and we were going to set up democratic forms of government,” he said. “How many thousand Americans lost their lives there? What did it do to our country? For a generation?”
Harkin’s allusion is odd, to say the least, for the situation with Iraq is far different from Vietnam. First, the terrain — desert, not jungle — is easier for U.S. troops to fight on. We have far better intelligence than we had in Vietnam. The history of Operation Desert Storm suggests that the conflict will be short with minimal U.S. casualties. Finally, our attempts to democratize Iraq will come after we defeat the enemy, not before. Surely Harkin is not so ignorant as to be unaware of these facts.
Indeed, he is not ignorant; he is opportunistic. Before last year’s election, Harkin emphasized the need for United Nations involvement in Iraq, but voted for the Congressional authorization of force. Now that the election is over, Harkin feels no pressure to temper his pacifist instincts.
Harkin has a history of playing the “moderate hawk” before election eve, and then reverting to peacenik after he’s re-elected. In 1990, Harkin found his first re-election attempt in some trouble when Hussein made the mistake of invading Kuwait before the November election. Harkin handled it by complaining that the U.S. should not go it alone in Iraq, but usually prefaced such remarks by saying he backed President George Bush, Sr. Yet barely two weeks after the election, Harkin joined a lawsuit led by Rep. Ron Dellums which sought to prevent President Bush from launching a Persian Gulf offensive without Congressional approval. And secure in the knowledge that he would be in the Senate another six years, Harkin voted against the January 1991 Congressional resolution authorizing force.
Harkin’s expediency manifests itself in other ways. In June 2002 Harkin co-sponsored with Senator Arlen Specter a resolution which required Congress to “reauthorize” the use of force before President George W. Bush could invade Iraq. Yet Harkin took no such action before President Bill Clinton undertook Operation Desert Fox in 1998. Apparently the President of one’s own party, especially when he is facing impeachment, need never be bothered.
Last September then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had a near conniption in the well of the Senate when he incorrectly thought President Bush had politicized the war. Perhaps he should now focus some of his ire on his fellow Democrats. He can start with Tom Harkin.
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