The Current Crisis

Rumsfeld Speaks, Democrats Screech

In their view, the Secretary of Defense should not be allowed to defend American policy.

By 8.31.06

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WASHINGTON --This week in his speech before the national convention of the American Legion, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made an unconscionable faux pas. He defended our present policy in Iraq and our war on terror by citing historic events and quoting Winston Churchill and Georges Clemenceau. That is a rude way to discuss policy with one's Democratic opponents. The historical record is a particularly sore subject with the likes of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who inveighed against Rumsfeld's speech as "reckless." History has not been going his way for a while. Reid's equivalent in the House of Representatives, the Hon. Nancy Pelosi, spoke of the Secretary's impairment...and she was not referring to his golf swing. Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Rumsfeld of questioning the critics' patriotism.

These are very touchy pols. Leader Reid went on to elaborate that the administration that Rumsfeld serves "is more interested in lashing out at its political enemies than it is in winning the war on terror and in bringing an end to the war in Iraq." But Rumsfeld never in his entire speech mentioned "political enemies." As James Taranto notes in his indispensable Best of the Web Today column, the only American politician Rumsfeld mentioned was the late Senator William Borah who upon hearing of Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland sighed: "Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided." Borah was a Republican isolationist, so perhaps we can understand the aforementioned Democrats' indignation. As I say, they are exceptionally touchy.

But they are also ignoramuses. The entire speech is cast on a very high level. It is dispassionate, erudite, and difficult to refute. The only individuals Rumsfeld criticizes are a handful of journalists and whoever in Amnesty International called Gitmo "the gulag of our times." Otherwise he sticks to a theme that is unassailable. Our opponents in Iraq and among the terrorists are nihilists, every bit as dangerous as the Nazis. In the years prior to World War II, Rumsfeld argues, "a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be appeased [world war] might be avoided." Rumsfeld asserts that the appeasers suffered from "a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion," concluding with a paraphrase of Churchill's great line that the appeaser seems to believe that if he feeds the alligator enough, "the alligator will eat him last."

I would argue that there is a difference between the appeasers of the 1930s and today's. Both have been smug, but today's are smug and opportunistic. In the 1930s the appeasers were in power, and as Rumsfeld notes they could ridicule and ignore Churchill and his allies. Today the appeasers are out of power so they ridicule and misrepresent those who are directing our war against what Rumsfeld calls "a new type of fascism." Today's appeasers misrepresent the Bush foreign policy for their own political advancement.

In the months after our victory in Iraq, they recognized that as long as they stuck by our wartime president they would be in the minority. Thus one by one they deserted the war they had approved and sided with the war's early opponents, starry-eyed radicals such as Professor Noam Chomsky. Perhaps if the anti-war Democrats take the White House in 2008 Dr. Chomsky will be their secretary of defense, and they can choose as secretary of state one of the Dixie Chicks. I suggest the one who chews bubble gum.

My colleague at The American Spectator Jed Babbin considers my assessment of today's appeasers in the Democratic Party too mild. Where I accuse them of being smug and opportunistic, he accuses them of being smug and guilty of adhering to moral equivalence. Sozzled in multiculturalism they see America, says Babbin, "as no better than any other country regardless of its nature. We're morally and socially no better than Iran."

Is the thing possible? Do the likes of Reid and Pelosi think we are no better than the Iranian Islamofascists who whoop it up for suicide bombers and are governed by a zany who looks like an eternal graduate student from one of our cow colleges? Well, the Democrats who responded so hysterically to Rumsfeld's speech are not very civilized. Rumsfeld is. In his speech he acknowledged that in this war there have been "mistakes and setbacks and casualties." But he put them in perspective, quoting Clemenceau's observation that war is a "series of catastrophes that results in victory." Citing history and quoting lines like that can only bring the Democrats to a boil. Theirs is the party of bumper stickers.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.