Retreat of the Antiwar Democrats

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In November 2006, Republicans were voted out of power in the Congress and Democrats installed to bring an end to U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq.

The war had been going on as long as America’s war on Nazi Germany. No end was in sight. U.S. casualties and costs were rising. Bush’s approval rating had sunk to record lows.

The day after the GOP rout, Bush cashiered his war minister, Donald Rumsfeld. In December, the Iraq Study Group, chaired by Bush I Secretary of State James Baker, released its report.

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. … A slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian disaster. … The situation in Baghdad and several provinces is dire. … Pessimism is pervasive. … Violence is increasing in scope, complexity and lethality.”

His policy collapsing, Bush made a last throw of the dice. Gen. David Petraeus was named to command U.S. forces, and his request for a “surge” of 21,500 additional U.S. troops accepted. Petraeus also demanded and got 10,000 more support troops.

Still, by April, as the “surge” brigades began to arrive, Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, was declaring, “This war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything.” Democrats, the party base goading them on, tried to impose upon Bush, as a condition of further funding for the war, deadlines for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Bush vetoed the bill. He was sustained. Then, he rubbed the Democrats’ noses in their defeat by demanding and getting $100 billion more to finance the surge and the war. There are today 30,000 more troops in Iraq than when the Democratic Congress was elected.

As Petraeus testifies, the antiwar movement appears broken. Reid has said his party will not try to de-fund the war or impose new deadlines. It will follow GOP Sen. John Warner, who has suggested it might be helpful if the president withdrew a brigade by Christmas, to signal the Iraqi government to get its house in order. Petraeus has agreed to that.

Next April is the date when the Iraq Study Group said all U.S. combat brigades should be out of Iraq. By then, Bush and Petraeus will have tens of thousands more troops in Iraq than when the Democrats were elected and the ISG reported. The lame duck is not all that lame.

What happened to the party of Speaker Pelosi and Reid, which was going to end U.S. involvement in the war and not permit Bush to pursue victory the way Richard Nixon pursued it in Vietnam for four years?

Answer: Terrified of the possible consequences of the policies they recommend, Democrats lack the courage to impose those policies.

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When it comes to issues of war, Democrats are an intimidated lot. Sens. Clinton, Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Reid were all stampeded by Bush into voting him a blank check for war in October 2002. Why? Because they feared Bush would declare them weak or unpatriotic if they denied him the authority to go to war, at a time of his choosing, until he had made a more compelling case for war.

Now they regret what they did. But, in a showdown, they will do it again. For Democrats have been psychologically damaged by 60 years of GOP attacks on them as the party of retreat and surrender.

Their hero, FDR, was posthumously ripped apart for Yalta, the appeasement of “Uncle Joe,” and the abandonment to communism of Poland and Eastern Europe. Truman fired Gen. MacArthur, fought a no-win war in Korea and was savaged, along with Gen. Marshall and Dean Acheson, by Joe McCarthy. By 1952, Truman was at 23 percent and finished. In January 1954, the Tailgunner was riding high at 50 percent.

Came then Vietnam and the credible charge that the Liberal Establishment, The Best and the Brightest, had marched us in, then cut and run, abandoning our Vietnamese and Cambodian allies to a holocaust, and bringing on the worst strategic defeat in U.S. history.

When Ronald Reagan, in the closing days of the 1980 campaign, declared Vietnam a “noble cause,” the liberal media leapt on it as a gaffe. It wasn’t. Reagan was wired in to Middle America.

John Kerry understood this. Thus, he ran in 2004 as a decorated Vietnam vet, not the onetime icon of the antiwar movement.

Bush is winning today because he has jettisoned the jabber about global democracy and argues that a U.S. withdrawal risks a strategic disaster, national humiliation, massacre of our friends and triumph for al-Qaida. Democrats, fearing he may be right, are in paralysis.

Scourged for 20 years over “Who Lost China?” they don’t want to spend the next 20 years answering “Who Lost the Middle East?”

Thus the rout of the peace Democrats. But the movement will be back. For, Petraeus’ good news notwithstanding, there is no light yet visible at the end of this tunnel.

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