Party of Defeat
A House Divided
The object of war is to break an enemy’s will and destroy his capacity to fight. Therefore, a nation divided in wartime is a nation that invites its own defeat. Yet that is precisely how Americans are facing the global war that radical Islamists have declared on them.
The enemies who confront us are religious barbarians, armed with the technologies of modern warfare but guided by morals that are medieval and grotesque. Their stated goal is the obliteration of America and the conquest of the West. They have assembled a coalition that includes sovereign states such as Iran and Syria, Muslim armies such as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas, and terrorist cells that are globally dispersed and beyond counting.
This jihad has access to biological, chemical, and possibly nuclear weapons. It actively threatens the regimes in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Turkey, and Egypt. Among its allies are non-Muslim states such as the Communist regimes in North Korea, Venezuela, and China. Its enablers include Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the vast political networks of the international Left. Its pool of sympathizers and supporters can be counted in the hundreds of millions, and its political fronts are embedded in almost every nation and every continent, including Europe and the United States.
The warriors of the jihad are promised salvation for slaughtering innocents; their highest honor is to sacrifice themselves for Allah by murdering infidels; their goal is to restore an Islamic empire that once stretched into the heart of Europe, until it was defeated in the battle of Vienna on September 11, 1683. Three hundred years later, Osama bin Laden turned this date of humiliation into a day of vengeance—and revival. Striking America’s homeland on September 11, 2001, jihadists murdered thousands of unsuspecting civilians, and came within a terrorist attack or two of destabilizing the American economy and unleashing chaos.
As the victim of these unprovoked and savage attacks, and as the defender of democratic values in three world wars, America would seem a worthy cause. Instead, America is on the defensive, harshly criticized by its traditional allies and under political attack by significant elements of its own population.
In this epic conflict Americans appear more divided among themselves than they have been at any time in the century-and-a half since the Civil War. Never in those years was an American commander-in-chief the target of such extreme attacks by his own countrymen with his troops in harm’s way. Never in its history has America faced an external enemy with its own leaders so at odds with each other.
Even as American soldiers have fought a fanatical enemy on the battlefields of Iraq, their president has been condemned as a deceiver who led them to war through “lies;” as a destroyer of American liberties; as a desecrator of the Constitution; as a usurper who stole his high office; as the architect of an “unnecessary war;” as a “fraud;” as a leader who “betrayed us;” and as a president who cynically sent the flower of American youth to die in foreign lands in order to enrich himself and his friends.
These reckless, corrosive charges are made not by fringe elements of the political spectrum, but by national leaders of the Democratic Party, including a former president, a former vice president and presidential candidate, and three members of the United States Senate (among them a one-time presidential candidate). These attacks occurred not after years of fighting in Iraq, when some might regard the result as a “quagmire,” but during the first months of the conflict, when the fighting had barely begun. They were made not over a war that was forced on Americans, or surreptitiously launched without their consent, but a war authorized by both political parties. They were directed not merely at its conduct, but at the rationale of the war itself—in other words, at the very justice of the American cause.
Although they voted for the bill to authorize the war, leaders of the Democratic Party, such as Senator Hillary Clinton, turned around after it was in progress and claimed that it was “George Bush’s war,” not theirs. They argued that Bush alone had decided to remove Saddam, when in fact it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who made regime change the policy of the United States. They argued that the war was “unnecessary” because Iraq was “no threat.” But who would have regarded Afghanistan as a threat before 9-11? They maintained that because the war in Iraq was a war of “choice,” it was therefore immoral. But every war fought by America in the twentieth century, with the exception of World War II, was also a war of choice.
Above all, they claimed the president had manipulated intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and thus the premise of the war. But copies of the National Intelligence Estimate on which the president’s decision was based were provided to every Democratic senator who voted for or against it. The findings were confirmed by government intelligence agencies around the world, including those of France, Britain, Russia, and Jordan. In other words, President Bush could not have manipulated the intelligence on which the vote was based and the war was actually authorized.
In attempting to make the war in Iraq a sinister plot of the Bush administration, Democrats claimed that it was a distraction from the war with the Islamic terrorists who had attacked America. “The issue is the war they got us into,” Nancy Pelosi told 60 Minutes just before she became Speaker of the House and the second elected official in line for the presidency. “If the president wants to say the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror, he’s not right.”
60 Minutes: Do you not think that the war in Iraq now, today, is the war on terror?
Pelosi: No. The war on terror is the war in Afghanistan.
60 Minutes: But you don’t think that the terrorists have moved into Iraq now?
Pelosi: They have. The jihadists in Iraq. But that doesn’t mean we stay there. They’ll stay there as long as we’re there.
60 Minutes: You mean if we leave Iraq, the terrorists will leave?
What nation can prevail in a war if half its population believes that the war is unnecessary and unjust, that its commander-in-chief is a liar, and that its own government is the aggressor? What president can mobilize his nation if his word is not trusted? And what soldier can prevail on the field of battle if half his countrymen are telling him that he shouldn’t be there in the first place?
It was July 2003, only four months after American forces entered Iraq, when the Democratic Party launched its first all-out attack on the president’s credibility and the morality of the war. The opening salvos were reported in a New York Times article: “Democratic presidential candidates offered a near-unified assault today on President Bush’s credibility in his handling of the Iraq War signaling a shift in the political winds by aggressively invoking arguments most had shunned since the fall of Baghdad.”
While American forces battled al-Qaeda and Ba’athist insurgents in the Iraqi capital, the Democratic National Committee released a television ad that focused not on winning those battles, but on the very legitimacy of the war. The theme of the ad was “Read His Lips: President Bush Deceives the American People.” The alleged deception was sixteen words that had been included in the State of the Union address he delivered on the eve of the conflict.
These words summarized a British intelligence report claiming that Iraq had attempted to acquire fissionable uranium in the African state of Niger, thus indicating Saddam’s (well-known) intentions to develop nuclear weapons. The report was subsequently confirmed by a bipartisan Senate committee and a British investigative commission, but not until many months had passed and the Democratic attacks had taken their toll. On the surface, the attacks were directed at the president’s credibility for repeating the British claim. But their clear implication was to question the decision to go to war—in other words, to cast doubt on the credibility of the American cause. If Saddam had not sought fissionable uranium in Niger, it was suggested, then the White House had lied in describing Saddam as a threat.
In the midst of a war, and in the face of a determined terrorist resistance in Iraq, Democrats had launched an attack on America’s presence on the field of battle. This separated their assault from the normal criticism of war policies. Senator John Edwards, then a candidate for the Democrats’ 2004 presidential nomination, had voted to authorize the war and was still claiming to support it. In an interview with the New York Times, he identified the significance of the Democrats’ attack: “The most important attribute that any president has is his credibility—his credibility with the American people, with its allies and with the world.” But even as Edwards said this, he joined the Democrats’ attack, publicly insinuating that the president was a liar who had deceived the American people on the gravest issue imaginable. “When the president’s own statements are called into question,” Edwards explained to the reporter, “it’s a very serious matter.”
When the nation is at war, it is graver still. To destroy the credibility of the commander-in-chief while his troops are in battle is to cripple his ability to support them and to win the war they are fighting. For this reason, throughout the history of armed conflict, a united home front has been an indispensable element of victory. For the same reason, a principal aim of psychological-warfare operations has been to target the credibility of the enemy’s leaders and the morality of the enemy cause.
General Ion Mihai Pacepa was the highest-ranking intelligence official ever to defect from the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. In a commentary about the attacks on President Bush during the war in Iraq, Pacepa recalled: “Sowing the seeds of anti-Americanism by discrediting the American president was one of the main tasks of the Soviet-bloc intelligence community during the years I worked at its top levels.” No president can marshal his nation’s resources if his people distrust him or don’t believe in their own cause. To attack a president’s credibility in the middle of a war, over a matter as ambiguous as a sixteen-word summary of an allied intelligence report, is an attempt to undermine the war itself.
During the Vietnam War, General Pacepa wrote, Soviet intelligence “spread vitriolic stories around the world, pretending that America’s presidents sent Genghis Khan-style barbarian soldiers to Vietnam who raped at random, taped electrical wires to human genitals, cut off limbs, blew up bodies and razed entire villages. Those weren’t facts. They were our tales, but … as Yuri Andropov, who conceived this dezinformatsiya war against the U.S., used to tell me, people are more willing to believe smut than holiness.”
Nor did this Soviet campaign to discredit the United States stop with Vietnam. As Pacepa explains: “The final goal of our anti-American offensive was to discourage the United States from protecting the world against communist terrorism and expansion. Sadly, we succeeded. After U.S. forces precipitously pulled out of Vietnam, the victorious communists massacred some two million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Another million tried to escape, but many died in the attempt. This tragedy also created a credibility gap between America and the rest of the world, damaged the cohesion of American foreign policy, and poisoned domestic debate in the United States.”
It is one of the ironies of the campaign against the war in Iraq that its opponents cite the political conflict over Vietnam as a precedent for their extraordinary attacks on a war in progress. In doing so, they misconstrue the past and misunderstand its lessons. During Vietnam, the nation’s political leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, were united in their support of the war effort for more than ten years. Their bipartisan unity came to an end only when both parties conceded that a victory was no longer politically possible. It was only in the presidential campaign of 1972, eleven years after the first American advisers were sent to Vietnam that Senator George McGovern ran against the war itself. By that time both parties were agreed on a policy of military withdrawal, and by that time truce negotiations with the Communists, initiated by a Republican administration, had already begun.
The conflict over war policy during the 1972 campaign was over the proper way to accomplish the withdrawal favored by both parties. It was over how to leave, not whether to leave. The McGovern Democrats favored a policy of immediate and unconditional retreat. Their campaign slogan was “Come Home, America.” The Nixon Republicans wanted to negotiate a truce whose terms would preserve the non-Communist regime in South Vietnam, and deny victory to the Communist aggressors. Their slogan was “Peace with Honor.”
The McGovernites did not believe American forces should have been in Vietnam in the first place. McGovern’s candidacy was a strategic campaign to block America’s Cold War policy of containing Communist expansion. Unlike the Democrats of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the McGovern Democrats believed America was the problematic imperial power, not the Soviet Union. This represented a sea change in the Democratic Party, whose leaders had actually launched the Cold War policy of containing Soviet Communism beginning with the Truman administration in 1947. It was the Democrats, led by John F. Kennedy, who had initiated America’s military presence in Vietnam. Until the McGovern candidacy, the Democratic leadership, including its presidential candidate in 1968, Hubert Humphrey, had supported the Vietnam War. It was the first time since the Civil War that an opposition party had conducted a national campaign to challenge the justice of America’s war aims.
The campaigns against the wars in Iraq and Vietnam may seek the same end—the defeat of American power—but the differences between them are revealing. In regard to Iraq, the Democrats’ attacks on the justice of the American cause came not after ten years of stalemate, but within three months of the swiftest, most successful campaign in military history. The attacks were conducted not by movement activists but by leaders of the Democratic Party, and they came in the first months of a war that both parties had until then supported, and that the previous Democratic administration had endorsed, and that both parties had voted to authorize. The attacks on this war have no precedent in the American past.
The effort to remove the Iraqi regime by force, which Democrats now maintain was provocative and unnecessary, originated with a Democratic president, Bill Clinton. Four years before Bush ordered American troops into Iraq, Clinton asked Congress to pass an “Iraq Liberation Act,” which specifically called for regime change by force. To emphasize the seriousness with which he regarded the threat that Saddam posed, Clinton ordered the American military to fire more than four hundred cruise missiles into Iraq. The Iraq Liberation Act authorized American aid for any insurgent group that was ready to overthrow the regime. It was ratified by both political parties— Democrats and Republicans—with barely a dissenting vote.
Four years later, when Bush asked Congress to authorize the use of force to accomplish the same goal, a Democratic majority in the Senate supported his request. When American forces entered Iraq on March 19, 2003, a large majority of the Democratic leadership, including the former president, his secretaries of state and defense, and his entire national security team, supported the invasion. When the Iraqi regime was overthrown three weeks later, the Democratic leadership joined in the celebration, although some dissenters, such as Representative Nancy Pelosi, were already complaining that it cost too much.
Dissent is a cherished and justly protected right in a democracy. But it is also a privilege. The right to dissent exists only on condition that the government that guarantees it is able to defend itself against enemies who would destroy it. No bulwark has been more durable or more important to the stability and survival of America’s democratic order than the solidarity of its leaders in wartime. A president under relentless attack from the domestic opposition has less political space for flexible response. The more severe the attacks, the more limited his room for political maneuver. If the Bush administration has been slow to admit error in the present war, or to take corrective measures on the field of battle, the unrestrained attacks on its integrity and motives have undoubtedly been a significant factor.
Should more troops have been deployed to win the war, as General Eric Shinseki advised at the outset? What Democratic leader at the time proposed legislation to provide the funding which would have made such a remedy possible? What Republican legislator, faced with attacks that brand his president a liar who tricked the nation into a needless war, would join a chorus of Democrats in attacking their president’s policy on that war?
Another aspect of reckless criticism that opponents of the war are loathe to discuss is the impact of such attacks on enemy morale. If America’s enemies have been encouraged by these divisions at home, this consequence cannot be simply dismissed as though it did not exist. In time of war, criticism of war policy—particularly reckless and rejectionist attacks on the nation’s war aims and efforts—cannot be granted “no fault” status, as though no repercussions ensued. In a democracy, policy must always be subject to scrutiny, even in wartime, but so must criticism of that policy.
This book is about unprecedented attacks on an American president and a war in progress. It is about the impact of a divided national leadership on the prosecution of the war. It is an attempt to understand the defection of leaders from a war they supported and from a national purpose they presumably share. It is also an effort to understand the influence on the Democratic Party of a radical Left that has defected from this purpose and no longer regards itself as part of the nation. This Left sees itself instead as part of an abstract “humanity,” transcending national borders and patriotic allegiances, whose interests coincide with a worldwide radical cause.
Democrats have an explanation for their defection from a war they originally supported: the president is to blame. But this is a claim that will not stand up to even the most cursory inspection. Between the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, which the Democrats supported, and their attacks on the legitimacy of the war, which began in June, three months later, no event transpired on the battlefield and no change took place in the administration’s war policy that would explain their defection. What changed was the internal politics of the Democratic Party, and this was a direct result of the antiwar campaign organized by the Left.
By coincidence, the buildup to the war took place during the early stages of a presidential-primary campaign, in the winter and spring of 2003. By June, the candidacy of the obscure Vermont governor named Howard Dean, a veteran of the anti-Vietnam Left, had gathered such momentum that he appeared to have become the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. It was this political fact that precipitated an about-face on the war by more prominent Democrats, such as John Kerry and John Edwards, who eventually captured the party’s nominations. It was the antiwar radicals in the Dean campaign, not any events on the ground in Iraq, that produced the change in the position of leading Democrats and eventually of the Democratic Party as a whole. It was the political force of the antiwar movement, rather than any fact about the war, that explains the change.
Aware that their attacks on the home front would appear indefensible to many Americans, critics of the war have attempted to argue that it was Bush who had created the political schism. Four years into the war, New York Times columnist Robert Wright wrote a typical broadside titled, “An Easter Sermon,” which drew an invidious comparison between Bush and Jesus Christ, and blamed the president for dividing the nation. The column focused on a statement Bush made in an address to Congress nine days after 9-11. In it he said: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
Wright’s column appeared in April 2007, even as a newly invested Democratic Congress was proposing legislation to force an American retreat in Iraq. In the column, Wright portrayed Bush as a polarizing figure who questioned his critics’ loyalties. Wright cited a contrasting Gospel statement by Jesus, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” as a model for what Bush should have said. Commented Wright: “Weeks after 9-11, George Bush says roughly the opposite. His famous ‘You’re either with us or against us’ means that those who don’t follow his lead will be considered enemies. The rest is history.”
But this is a false reading of Bush’s sentence as well as of the New Testament, since Jesus also said, “He that is not with me is against me.” It is also a false account of the history that followed, since it was Bush’s critics who made the White House and its supporters their enemies, not the other way around. Typical was an early attack by billionaire George Soros, the most influential non-elected figure in Democratic politics. Soros’s assault came in the fall of 2003, five months after the Democratic leaders had launched their scorched-earth campaign over the Niger incident, and just as they were escalating their offensive.
According to Soros, Bush’s statement was proof not only that he was a divisive force in domestic politics, but that he was pursuing a “supremacist ideology” reminiscent of the Nazis: “When I hear Bush say, ‘You’re either with us or against us,’ it reminds me of the Germans,” Soros said. “It conjures up memories of Nazi slogans on the walls, like Der Feind Hort mit (‘The enemy is listening’).”
Such rhetoric illustrated the degree to which the political debate had already become poisonous on the Democratic side only eight months into the war. No administration official had used such language to describe Democratic leaders opposed to the conflict. The statement that a wartime enemy would be listening to its adversary was in any case hardly a Nazi idea. During World War II, almost identical slogans were popular in America, such as “Loose lips sink ships.” During the Cold War the code of bipartisanship was sealed in the phrase “Politics stops at the water’s edge,” to acknowledge the importance of political unity in wartime.
Soros’s statement was an example of the very politics it pretended to decry. If pointing to the fact that wartime divisions might entail some dangers made one a Nazi, as Soros suggested, what did that kind of comment do to the tenor of public debate? Yet no Democrat challenged Soros when he employed such a venomous allusion.
In fact, the meaning of Bush’s statement was grossly distorted by both Wright and Soros. The president’s remark was made in the context of an assessment of the threat America faced after 9-11. The purpose of his speech was to outline a new American response to the global war that Muslim fanatics had declared on America and the West. This war had come to American shores eight years earlier, in 1993, with the first attack on the World Trade Center. It had been followed by attacks on American targets in Saudi Arabia, Africa, and Yemen. But there had been no appropriate American response.
Bush’s agenda was to announce such a response. Henceforth, America would answer with a war of its own: “Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.”
The president called the new response a “War on Terror.” It was a war, he said, that was rooted in ideology: “They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism.” He described the war as not merely with al-Qaeda, the Islamic group that had struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9-11, but with every element of the jihad: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
Having laid down these guidelines, Bush was ready to draw the line that caused Wright, Soros, and the Democratic leadership such consternation. Because the United States was now ready to recognize the global nature of the threat, it was also ready to recognize the complicity of Islamic governments such as Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and the Sudan in supporting the Islamic jihad and making possible the terrorist attacks. It was putting these regimes on notice: Sovereignty would no longer protect nation-states that aided and abetted the Islamic crusade. Governments would now be held responsible for the global terrorists within their borders.
If governments did not cooperate in the War on Terror and here the Taliban in Afghanistan was foremost in Bush’s mind they would be regarded as enemies, too: “And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. This was a warning to governments—to the Taliban and other Islamic regimes that might provide havens and support for al-Qaeda. This is the statement that Wright and Soros, and the president’s Democratic opponents, first distorted and then misrepresented as an attack on domestic critics. Bush had said nothing of the sort. It was a projection of the way his critics felt about him.
This new war policy of holding governments that harbored terrorists accountable was precisely what had been missing when terrorists struck the World Trade Center in 1993. After that attack, the bomb maker, an Iraqi named Abdul Rahman Yasin, was able to escape to Baghdad. The Clinton administration did not pursue Yasin to Iraq, nor did it hold the regime of Saddam Hussein accountable for providing refuge to him. If Clinton had done so, perhaps his fellow Democrats would better understand the connection between the Iraqi regime and the Islamic jihad against their country.
Instead, the Clinton White House regarded the World Trade Center bombing as a criminal act carried out by individuals unconnected to a global jihad. The identical attitude was evident when an al-Qaeda warlord in Somalia, Mohammed Farah Aideed, ambushed U.S. Army Rangers in the city of Mogadishu, also in 1993. The failure to grasp the place of these attacks in a global jihad led directly to America’s vulnerability on 9-11. It is what Bush has meant on those occasions when he has accused Democrats of “forgetting the lessons of 9-11,” or failing to understand them. This is the real political fault line in the disputes over the War on Terror and its battleground in Iraq.
Democrats believe that the War on Terror is a blunder committed by the Bush administration, even an invention of the Bush administration, rather than an actual war that has been declared on America by Osama bin Laden and the global forces of Islamofascism. This was the point of the celebrated statement candidate John Edwards made in 2007, during the presidential primary campaign: “The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics,” Edwards claimed. “It is not a strategy to make America safe. It’s a bumper sticker, not a plan.” And further: “We need a post-Bush, post-9-11, post-Iraq military that is mission-focused on protecting Americans from 21st century threats, not misused for discredited ideological purposes. By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set—that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam.”
The same point had been made by Soros a year earlier. In a Wall Street Journal article, he explained that the War on Terror was “a misleading figure of speech [which] applied literally has unleashed a real war fought on several fronts—Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Somalia—a war that has killed thousands of innocent civilians and enraged millions around the world . . . [W]e can escape it only if we Americans repudiate the war on terror as a false metaphor.”
In this view, George Bush and America are responsible for the war that radical Islam has launched against us. This is not a tactical difference between opponents of the war policy in Iraq and its supporters. It is strategic, and it explains why we have turned a corner in our history for which there is no precedent, and why the divisions over the war are deeper and more troubling than any of the specific issues that confront us.