Which of the following is most likely headed for a disaster? A. The U.S. military, B. The Iraqi National Congress, or C. The Democratic Party. If recent remarks by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin are any indication, there's only one answer: C.
According to last Friday's Des Moines Register:
The relatively quick fall of Baghdad shows that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a "paper tiger" rather than a major threat to world peace, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said Thursday.
"What we were told and what you saw in the press last fall and earlier this year is that he had a massive war machine," said Harkin, the most outspoken critic of the war in Iraq among members of the Iowa congressional delegation.
"It looks now like this was just a Third World country -- there were people fighting with tennis shoes on, on the Iraqi side," Harkin told reporters. "I don't know what else we're going to find, but they didn't fly even one airplane in the air. They had almost nothing.
"So if they were that weak, where we could just roll over them like that, tell me again how he was such a big threat in the past?" the senator added.
About face, march! Barely a month ago was Harkin was hinting at a quagmire with a comparison to Vietnam:
"Go visit Vietnam, and then go down to this wall down here on the Mall and remember the misguided adventures of well-meaning politicians of the past," Harkin said.
Harkin has become a microcosm of the Democratic Party, a reflection of the difficult political dilemma Iraq caused his party. Last year the Democrats faced an unenviable situation: vote for a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and anger much of their base, or vote against it and risk alienating moderates. Some Democrats, like Harkin, tried to have it both ways: they appeased their base by raising questions about a prospective war and insisting on United Nations' involvement , and they appeased moderates by voting for the resolution. While it worked well for Harkin (thanks to a weak opponent), election night 2002 was not exactly a triumphant moment for the Democratic Party.
In recent months the Democrats' problem has only worsened. As the invasion approached, it became clear that the only way the war would be a winner for the Democrats was if it turned into a fiasco. Hence such clumsy moves as Harkin's comparison to Vietnam or Minority Leader Tom Daschle's criticism of Bush's "diplomatic failure."
Once it was clear that the allies would win a swift victory, however, the quagmire strategy had to be abandoned. Now the playbook is turned to the "move on to other issues" page. Just last week at a forum that Harkin held in Iowa for Democratic-nominee hopeful John Edwards, Harkin requested that all questions from those in attendance focus on the economy. He was not disappointed. The new strategy also explains Harkin's remarks last Friday that the war with Iraq would not dominate the 2004 presidential campaign. "I think the big issue is going to be what's happening to people's daily lives -- health care, lack of health-care coverage, the deficit, job creation, Social Security, prescription drug benefits," he said.
Apparently, though, he had a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease when he spoke to reporter Jane Norman. By saying that we had ousted a paper tiger, he insulted the U.S. military, slighted the military planners, and made light of the recent discovery of what appears to be a nuclear weapons lab in Iraq. Not exactly the way to win the heart and minds of the moderates so vital the Democrats' chances in 2004.
Yet the "move on to other issues" strategy is not likely to work, and not just because Harkin botched it. The problem is that the Democrats are equating the war with Iraq with the War on Terrorism. The former may not be a major issue in the 2004 campaign, but the latter almost surely will be. Americans are not likely to forget their security concerns within the space of only three years. Worse, for the Democrats, the third anniversary of 9/11 will occur only two months before the election. The Bush campaign will be able to remind the voters that Bush has conducted two successful military campaigns in the War on Terrorism, plus taken out key al Qaeda operatives including number three man Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. And if the economy is doing well by November 2004, well, does it even need to said?
Jay Nordlinger recently remarked that "For those who care intelligently about the security of the country, it's just not safe yet to vote Democratic." Tom Harkin's proving him correct.