WASHINGTON — With the sudden eruption of violence in Iraq at the vestibule of Ramadan it is now apparent that at least someone reads American history, Saddam’s brutes and perhaps the terrorists from al Qaeda. American schoolchildren know very little American history, lost as they are in courses on gender genius and conflict resolution. Yet, our enemies in the Middle East remember the Vietnam War, the Tet Offensive, and how while our army triumphed in Vietnam our politicians rendered the war unwinnable at home.
Ahead of the curve once again, the New York Sun editorialized early this week that the parallels being drawn between the Ramadan violence and the 1968 Tet Offensive do not reflect all that well on today’s war critics. In 1968 the Tet Offensive was a dreadful defeat for the Communists, costing them 43,000 dead while our losses were relatively light. Yet in 1968 America’s growing chorus of anti-war voices drew just the wrong conclusion. The New York Times, one of the early proponents of the Vietnam War, actually referred to the Tet Offensive at the time as “the spectacularly successful Communist Tet offensive.” Thus began the anti-war critics’ campaign for a negotiated settlement in Vietnam. They eventually got their settlement promising “peace and freedom” in Vietnam. What they got was a Communist dictatorship and the peace of “reeducation camps”. The dictatorship still exists.
Who would Dr. Howard Dean, Senator John Pierre Kerry and General Wesley Clark have us negotiate with today? Oh, let us cooperate with the United Nations, they say, ignoring the fact that we tried and there was not much cooperation. Moreover the United Nations has no policy for pacifying Iraq or even anyone to negotiate with, though maybe Secretary-General Kofi Annan will find an Iraqi version of Yasser Arafat to negotiate with.
What we are seeing in Iraq is the politicization of a war. One of the reasons Americans used to abide by the principle that foreign policy stops at the water’s edge was to prevent politicizing a policy that would always leave our government outnumbered in negotiations. There would be the American government on one side of the table and our adversary on the other, seated alongside the American government’s domestic critics. Both our adversary and Washington’s domestic critics could cooperate in weakening our government’s position.
That is the prospect Washington faces today in the Middle East unless the Democrats show restraint, the kind of restraint responsible Republicans showed in the 1940s when the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations developed the tough policies against Moscow that eventually led to a peaceful end to the Cold War and to world Communism.
Today the Bush administration, like the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, has no alternative but to resist terrorism and the states that support terrorism. The administration’s job is made all the more difficult by the Democratic presidential candidates’ cheap shots. The candidates who supported the Iraqi war resolution and now obfuscate their support and disparage our policy are shameless opportunists who will make our policy in Iraq all the more difficult and expensive. Of them I think General Clark is the cheapest and most reckless. He is also a political greenhorn, as inexpert at explaining himself as he is impudent at lying.
Early this week he began publicly opposing the administration’s $87 billion package for pacifying and rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. In no time he was contradicting himself. Reporters overheard his saying of Iraq, “We broke the dishes, we’re going to have to pay for them.” When they asked him about the contradiction, the New York Times reported his saying, “Eventually we’re going to have to do our part in the reconstruction.”
That is a brazen deception, but a few days earlier he was even more brazen. At one of the Democrats’ debates Clark was asked about the assertion of his former superior, retired Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman H. Hugh Shelton, that “the reason he [Clark] came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues.” Clark looked dramatically into the cameras and solemnized that the word for that sort of claim was “McCarthyism.” Retired General Shelton was not calling Clark a Communist. He was calling him a man of dubious character. Clark’s response proved Shelton accurate.
Opportunists such as Clark will only make our policy in Iraq more difficult, but most Americans understand there is no alternative. That is why the Democrats are ensuring their own defeat in 2004.