Friday, September 13, 2002
The New Republic has a great editorial about the bankruptcy of the Democratic Party with respect to the looming war to depose Saddam Hussein. It's an important piece, because what it says is true: the Democrats are eagerly abdicating any serious responsibility for dealing with the most serious issue of our time. They are effectively voting themselves out of executive power for a generation. This is madness from a political perspective. But it is also very unhealthy for the country, which deserves a serious debate on foreign policy goals and means, something currently going on only within the Republican Party, and not between the two parties.
The piece reflexively asserts that Gore would not have been so bankrupt, something I'm highly skeptical about. I remember Gore's position in the MX debate in the early 1980s. (Yes, I was following this stuff when I was 13. That's how much of a geek I am.) He was one of the lead movers behind the Midgetman alternative. So far as I can tell, the purpose of that alternative was to protect the Democratic Party from being attacked as being soft on nuclear issues; the strategic rationale for the Midgetman versus the MX was thin. In other words, Gore from the beginning of his career understood the political problem the Democrats had in foreign affairs, and tried to address it, but he did not accept that the Democrats had a philosophical problem. The same was true in the debate on the Gulf War, where Gore publicly agonized before committing himself to the war. It was pretty clear that he was trying to cover his rear end rather than make policy; he would vote for, so that he was safe if the war went well and was popular, but he would first make all the arguments against, so that he could claim he would have handled things better if the war went poorly. Again, his calculus was political, not philosophical.
You can count on one hand the serious Democratic thinkers on foreign policy. Richard Holbrooke is one. Joe Lieberman is another. I might give the honor to John Kerry, because he seems to me to be a serious liberal rather than a knee-jerk posturer. Anyone else? Joe Biden? Don't make me laugh. Dick Gephardt? Get real. Tom Daschle? You can't be serious. How about the old Executive Branch hands - Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, former heads of the National Security Council Tony Lake and Sandy Berger, former Secretaries of Defense Lee Hamilton and Bill Cohen (oh, wait, he's a Republican), former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton? Any takers? I thought not. The best of them are tinkerers or posturers, the worst ditherers, hand-wringers and declinists. Compare that list with the GOP. There's a diversity of opinion within the GOP, between folks like John McCain, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Armey, Tom Delay, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Chuck Hagel, Dick Lugar and so forth. They don't all agree. But it's a long list, and it's a list of serious people.
It's not good for the country that only one party be capable of debating matters of national security. By abdicating responsibility, the Democrats are undermining the President. They have taken no position to which they can be held to account; if they war goes badly, they did not support it, so they can attack Bush for it; if it goes well, they can climb on the bandwagon and try to pretend they did nothing to obstruct it. Moreover, if Bush abandons the war, they can attack him for this as well, since they never argued that he should do so. This makes it harder for the President to see the depth of national support and therefore less confident in making policy. And this in turn weakens the country. The Democrats need to get serious - not only for their own good, but for ours.