Streetcar Line

Symptoms of a Larger Democratic Illness

A year ago Harry Reid said the U.S. had "lost" in Iraq and the barely begun "surge" had already failed.

By 4.17.08

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Saturday marks the first anniversary of what might be the single most craven public statement by a wartime elected leader in the history of the United States. Unfortunately, it stands as a symbol of liberal Democratic cravenness, or worse, throughout this decade, in a pattern of openly wishing for American failure in Iraq and in other foreign affairs, and of characterizing our missions as not just impractical but actually immoral.

The speaker was Harry Reid, majority leader of the U.S. Senate. The subject was the war in Iraq, and the "surge" in American troops there that had barely even begun and was still months away from full deployment. What he said, in full, was this: "I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and -- you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows -- this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday."

Not only was Reid wrong on the facts, but the potential damage to American troop morale, and the potential morale boost for terrorists worldwide, was unfathomably large. For the fourth-ranking official in American government to say that troops currently fighting on our behalf have already lost is to consign them to a state somewhere between limbo and oblivion. He managed to impugn the integrity and human decency of the Secretaries of State and Defense as well, implying that they would continue to send American soldiers abroad to fight and die for a mission they knew was useless.

Four days later, even as many of his fellow Democrats joined institutionalists such as columnist David Broder in tacitly or openly criticizing Reid's remarks ("amateurish," Broder wrote in a scathing column), Reid repeated himself: "I have no doubt the war cannot be won militarily and that's what I said last Thursday and I stick with that." Not content with undermining our troops, Reid repeated an earlier contention that President Bush was "a liar."

But it was all of a piece with his party's entire congressional leadership. Ted Kennedy in 2003 called the war a "fraud" that had been "made up in Texas" because it was "going to be good politically," and he accused Bush of "bribing" foreign officials. Hillary Clinton last fall accused Gen. David Petraeus of asking senators for a "willing suspension of disbelief." Top Defense appropriator John Murtha, D-Penn., falsely accused Marines of "killing women and children" deliberately, "in cold blood." Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., one of three congressmen who took a pre-war trip to Iraq that was funded by Saddam Hussein, said that "the president of the United States will lie to the American people in order to get us into this war," but moments later said the Iraqis were believable: "I think you have to take the Iraqis on their face value." And Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said the decision about war had been hijacked: "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this."

Even in Afghanistan, just after the start of our air war there, the sometimes-responsible Joe Biden, D-Del., said in a speech that our bombings made us look like a "high-tech bully."

(The leftist echo chamber in the establishment media has been just as bad: Less than two months after 9/11, before the United States had even sent in ground troops to Afghanistan, the New York Times' R.W. Apple already was writing that it was decidedly not "unreasonable" to use what he called "the ominous word 'quagmire'" to describe the military efforts there, while suggesting that "fighting a land war in Afghanistan would weaken the broad coalition that has been assembled to fight terrorism." Four days earlier, the Times' Frank Rich wrote that the Taliban "are proving Viet Cong-like in their intractability" and that "we're losing that battle for Afghan hearts and minds.")

BUT YOU WILL SEARCH in vain for anything but the most random statement (if even that; I can't find one) from any current Democratic leader, at any time during our efforts in Iraq, to offer support for the mission itself or -- with the notable exception of Biden's thoughtful but ill-advised "partition" plan for Iraq -- to suggest any ways for our stated mission to achieve success. An observer could easily be forgiven for suspecting that Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and their entire leadership actually want the United States to fail in Iraq, and that they think American failure would be a well-deserved comeuppance rather than a monumental tragedy.

Meanwhile, their flagrant disregard for facts, and their refusal to put the national interest ahead of pure political advantage -- such advantage often defined by fawning allegiance to every order from their overlords among union leadership and the plaintiffs' bar -- on even the most important of subjects, is frighteningly reckless. Faced with strong pleas from (Democratic) Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, backed by a bipartisan, two-thirds vote in the Senate, and endorsed as a "vital" intelligence need by the utterly nonpartisan Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (with significant service in the Clinton administration, no less), Pelosi's House leadership has refused for two months to provide immunity for telecommunications companies that helped American foreign intelligence surveillance efforts. Indeed, some Democrats went so far as to question the honesty and motives of McConnell, a 40-year intelligence veteran.

And so goes the rank irresponsibility, the outlandish rhetoric, and the flat-out denial that the United States is a morally defensible actor on the world stage, from Democratic leaders on issue after issue after issue. On the Colombian trade agreement, a crucial pact with our closet ally in South America. On acknowledgement (or refusal thereof) of Saddam's ties to terrorists. On the nature and history of al Qaeda. On both political and military progress in Iraq. On the actual conduct of American interrogations of "enemy combatants." On missile defense. Again and again, according to Democratic congressional leaders, there is no health in us. We, the United States, are the bullies. We, the United States, are the dishonest ones. We, the United States, are in the wrong. And conservatives who believe otherwise are not merely mistaken, or incompetent; we are liars, torturers, bloodthirsty, authoritarian, racist thugs.

So say the congressional leaders of the American Left.

They cannot possibly believe their own bile. It is bile based on no evidence, no logic, and certainly not a shred of good will. And it is bile so virulent that it can be described only as a pathology. It is a pathology whose effects, if not motivations, are so profoundly antagonistic to the American tradition as to be potentially deadly. It is a pathology that must be defeated, by all honest and lawful means. And then replaced with a responsible Left, if such a thing still exists in this country. Unfortunately, whether such a thing exists in any decent numbers is very much an open question.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.