Political Hay

Still in Saigon

Democrats continue to fight the last war.

By 11.21.06

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Judging by a lot of the rhetoric coming from the new Democratic majority in Washington, Democrats are not just stuck in a pre-9/11 mentality; they're stuck in a pre-1980s mentality. It's as if nothing has happened in the world since the fall of Saigon.

Before the election, we heard incessantly how reckless President Bush was for stubbornly refusing to listen to his own generals about the situation in Iraq. Gen. Eric Shinseki was referenced who knows how many times. A good president listens to his generals and sets military policy according to their advice, not the other way around, we were told ad nauseam. Rep. John Murtha rocketed to political fame by telling how his own sources within the military command disagreed with the president on Iraq.

The criticism helped bring the Democrats to power. And the first thing they did when they took charge was ignore the military command.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command, said of Iraq, "under current circumstances I would not recommend troop withdrawal." What are Democrats recommending? Troop withdrawal.

Following up on his Senate performance, Gen. Abizaid went to Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he told the audience, "We have not failed yet. I think we can win this fight. I think we are winning this fight."

The Democrats are not listening. In his Senate testimony, Gen. Abizaid agreed that Gen. Shinseki had been correct in his assessment that the United States should have sent more troops to Iraq in the first place. Gen. Abizaid was not simply mouthing administration talking points. But Democrats did not like what he had to say, so they simply ignored it.

Sen. Carl Levin, who will chair the Armed Services Committee in the next Congress, continues to advocate withdrawal from Iraq, despite sitting through Abizaid's testimony, including the general's warning that a timetable would hamper the military's ability to maneuver in Iraq as the generals see fit.

The week after Abizaid's testimony, Democratic boy wonder Sen. Barack Obama, widely considered the party's greatest hope for the future, called for withdrawal within six months.

Just ignore the man in the green uniform. Nothing to see there.

It's not only the top commander who wants to stay in Iraq and finish the job. It's the troops. Just before the election, the Washington Post published a story in which every single service member interviewed over the course of the previous month -- which just happened to be the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since the start of the war -- supported staying and completing the mission. Not one supported withdrawal.

The Concord Monitor, a local paper in New Hampshire, did a similar story focusing on New Hampshire service members. Again, not one supported pulling out.

Yet Democrats refuse to listen. Instead of taking military policy advice from service members whose relevant experience is in Iraq, they continue to turn to former service members whose relevant experience was in Vietnam. If John Murtha is to be listened to because he served a generation ago, why is Gen. Abizaid, who knows more than anyone else about the war we are actually fighting right now, to be ignored? Because Vietnam is the only military experience the left trusts.

As Democrats are busy ignoring the entire military, from Central Command down to the privates, while drawing up their own plans for retreat, Rep. Charles Rangel is pushing to institute the draft. And he's not kidding.

Rangel has pushed for a draft for the past three years. He argues that the government would not start wars if the sons of the elites who decide such things were at risk of being deployed to fight the wars the elites start.

The only problem with that thesis is that it has no basis whatsoever in reality. The United States had a draft from 1948 to 1973. We still went to Korea and (ahem) Vietnam. Rangel also has no idea who is actually in our military. He claims it's the poor and unprivileged. (In other words, if you don't study in school so you'll have good career options, you'll get stuck in Iraq.)

But the military today is not the military of the Civil War or even Vietnam. It is more educated and affluent than ever before. A report by Heritage Foundation researcher Tim Kane, released just before the election, found that "the average reading level of new soldiers is roughly a full grade level higher than their civilian peers" and that the high school graduation rate for enlistees was 17 percentage points higher than the rate for the civilian population.

The military is also not just a bunch of poor boys with no other options. "The wealthiest 40 percent of neighborhoods in America are the home of 45.6 percent of 2005 enlistees," Kane found. "For every two U.S. recruits from the poorest neighborhoods, three come from the richest."

So how is Rangel's idea going over in poor neighborhoods?

"What, he was smoking pot or something?" 58-year-old James Brown of Harlem, one of Rangel's own constituents, asked a New York Daily News reporter when asked for comment on Rangel's plan.

Another Rangel constituent, 48-year-old Neil Davis, said Rangel "doesn't represent the people of Harlem if he's for the draft."

Generals often make the mistake of fighting the last war. On Iraq, Democrats are doing exactly that. They just cannot get past Vietnam. Someone might want to remind them of two important lessons of Vietnam they seem to have forgotten: 1) In the absence of U.S. troops, the Communists slaughter of innocents continued unchecked; 2) Our retreat taught the world what the North Vietnamese already knew: To defeat the United States you don't have to win a single battle, you just have to kill enough Americans to turn public opinion against the war.

The irony is that only if Democrats have their way and U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq before the mission is complete will Iraq be another Vietnam.

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and editor of the satire blog www.gunsnbutter.com.

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Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.