Political Hay

The Moral High Ground

When Howie Dean invokes it, it turns into Democratic quick sand.

By 7.19.06

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SAN DIEGO -- Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, speaking at San Diego State University on July 15, was in typical form, blaming the recent flare-up of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah on George Bush. "If you think what's going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control," stated Chairman Dean, "it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today." And when Democrats work hard, success is assured. You remember, after all, how Bill Clinton worked hard to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians his "legacy"? Well, maybe that's not a good example. How about when Clinton worked really hard for a middle-class tax cut? Okay, so that's not a good one either. Let's just move on.

Deciding to take on Republicans on the issue of national defense, a move that worked wonders for John Kerry in 2004, Chairman Dean commented, "How can you be tough on defense if five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Iranians are about to get nuclear weapons, North Korea's quadrupled their nuclear weapons stash..." Now, of course, Chairman Dean is relying on information from the U.S. intelligence community in regards to what is going on in Iran and North Korea -- the same U.S. intelligence community that he thinks President Bush should have ignored when it came to Iraq's WMD capabilities in 2003, but let's not get hung up over little inconsistencies.

Dean's comment is like calling Reagan weak on defense because five years into his presidency, the USSR still had thousands of nuclear weapons, or that FDR was weak on defense because years after Pearl Harbor, Adolf Hitler still controlled much of Western Europe and the Japanese Empire still held much of East Asia. And the criticism that the steadily more lonely Osama bin Laden is still alive is an odd one for Dean to make given that the last Democratic President, Bill Clinton, worked very, very hard to find a reason not to accept a Sudanese offer to turn him over to us. What would Democrats do (other than criticize George W. Bush) to get Osama bin Laden, thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions, and neutralize North Korea? Dean and the rest of the Democratic leadership are rather murky on this. But Dean did suggest that the Democrat revival of American national security, again harkening back to the 2004 Kerry campaign, would have a lot to do with winning back the "high moral ground."

According to Dean, "We've lost the high moral high ground everywhere in the world. We want to be respected in the world again." How we do that is to subordinate our own national interests to, as Kerry called it, a "global test." In short, American foreign policy should work within the restraints of the United Nations (which, for some unexplained reason is credited by most leading Democrats as having final legal and moral authority). We can again regain the "high moral ground" that Dean proclaims we no longer have, if we work day after day after day with our moral friends at the United Nations who are so adept at solving world problems like genocide in Darfur. And if nations with veto power on the Security Council, such as Russia, China, or France, have national interests that conflict with American national security, no problem. The important thing is that we be "respected." Everyone respects impotence, after all.

The new "tough" national defense talk coming from Democrats who lambaste President Bush over what is going on in North Korea and Iran brings new meaning to the word "hypocrisy." They blast Bush for his "unilateralism" for going to war in Iraq rather than standing down because he couldn't get the Russians and the French to place their imprimatur of moral authority on the plan. Yet for Bush to have achieved any meaningful breakthroughs in the North Korean or Iranian situations, he would have had to have led the United States in even more cowboy unilateralism, skirting a United Nations that so far has not even been able to stomach making meaningful sanctions against either of these regimes. When it comes to foreign policy, however, the Bush administration seems to understand much better than its Democratic critics that different sets of circumstances require different approaches.

Tough-talking Democratic critics seem to forget that American military moves against North Korea, for instance, could result in the death of hundreds of thousands of South Koreans and the destruction of Seoul, which lies well within North Korean artillery range -- unless, of course, the Democrats are suggesting that we turn a swatch 20 miles deep north from the DMZ into a nuclear wasteland. That's probably not what they have in mind. But what do they have in mind (other than working hard, day after day)? The Bush administration has demonstrated that it will take military action, if necessary, as a last resort. It is unlikely, however, that our adversaries will believe that a Democratic administration would take meaningful military action absent unanimous support in the UN Security Council -- and that will make our efforts at diplomacy far less effective, regardless of how hard Democrats may work at it.

When it comes to Iran and North Korea, the Democrats really don't have a very impressive track record, do they? Give the Democrats another crack at it, and we'd probably end up with a Jimmy Carter brokered agreement in which the United States would pay to build nuclear reactors for the Iranians and the North Koreans if they agree to behave and stop pursuing nuclear weapons programs. Actually, I should have said "another" such agreement. Despite all the hard work by the Clinton administration, the North Koreans cheated on the last one and secretly continued their nuclear weapons programs. Imagine that.

Most Democrats, other than Joe Lieberman, who may soon be an Independent, despite all the tough talk, are not very impressive when it comes to being "tough on defense." They've been tough on American interrogators of terrorists and jihadists, they've been tough on the administration for trying to listen in on suspected terrorists making phone calls into the country, and, by gum, they won't allow any friendly Arab government to own any companies managing port operations in the U.S. (but the Chinese are okay). Chairman Dean and the Democratic Party have shown themselves to be real strong on political opportunism, but when it comes to being strong on national defense they have less credibility than Dan Rather.

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About the Author
Brandon Crocker is the chief financial officer of a commercial real estate development and management company in San Diego.