Monday, June 26, 2006

Sweet Surrender

Good retrospective on the glory that is Democratic Party foreign policy.


This rather effete (and eerily French) inclination to seek defeat has a rich history in the Democratic party, going back at least to the Kennedy administration. Despite sweeping declarations about paying any price, etc., for the success of liberty, Kennedy’s foreign policy was actually based on the notion that war most often results from miscommunication. That, apparently, was his thinking when he reassured the Soviets that we would not attack if they raised a wall in Berlin. (They didn’t know that before, which is why they hadn’t built it). The predictable result, a few months later, was the Berlin Wall, which saved the Communist regime of East Germany from death-by-mass-emigration.

What is harder to divine is what Kennedy might have been thinking when he waited until the Bay of Pigs invasion was underway before deciding to pull American air and logistical support. Thousands of Cuban exiles, who were in fact willing to pay any price for the success of liberty, threw their lives away on the beach or rotted in jail for decades.

And then, of course, we have the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was caused most fundamentally by Khrushchev’s desire to see if there was any limit to Kennedy’s submissiveness. (Fortunately, there was a limit to the Pentagon’s.)

The roots of the Democratic defeat-fetish grew deeper in the weary Johnson years, during which nearly a million American boys were sent to the other side of the world by a president who was driven there almost purely by domestic politics and who appears never to have worked up any real resolve to win. By the time 1968 rolled around, Johnson himself gave up, and withdrew from the reelection battle.

Nixon and Kissinger came to office convinced that Vietnam was unwinnable (which, by that point, may have been true) and that the key thing was to surrender without appearing to have done so. They started negotiating with everyone — the North Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the Russians — to try to triangulate a settlement that would bring “peace with honor.” For most Democrats, there was no reason to sugar-coat it — surrender tasted just fine by itself. They put enormous pressure on the administration to withdraw, with or without concessions from Hanoi. In diplomacy, this is called a unilateral concession; in strategy, we use a different term: Surrender.


The basic message of the Carter presidency was that America is on the decline, and we have to accept it. Though the Carter years are really too depressing to think about, I recently came across an interesting and telling anecdote: The Delta Force units that took part in the disastrous Desert One operation were under orders not to use lethal force if they got as far as the embassy in Tehran and encountered a hostile crowd. (As Mark Bowden revealed, they had little intention of following these ridiculous instructions).


The greatest of Clinton’s achievements in the realm of defeat-fetish was his response to al Qaeda’s declaration of war on the United States. After our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were destroyed, Clinton valiantly lobbed scores of cruise missiles at a milk factory in the Sudan and several empty campsites in Afghanistan. The only effect on Osama bin Laden, besides giving him a reason to laugh at us, was to convince him that we were weak and would quickly accept defeat if we were hit hard enough.

And now, with the Iraq war, the Democrats are at it again. Their comparison of Iraq to Vietnam is, to say the least, a stretch. The insurgency in Iraq has failed to achieve a national geographic scope; it has no foreign countries supporting it; it has no political program that anyone can understand; and it does not even have the scant military effectiveness of the Viet Cong. But there is one striking parallel with Vietnam: The Democratic party is once again mired in a race-to-the-bottom debate about how best to make America surrender.

As events in the Senate showed last week, there is diversity of opinion among Democrats on that issue; victory, on the other hand, has almost no support within the party. Senators Clinton and Lieberman, among the only Democratic politicians who think that victory is both possible and necessary, routinely get booed at public functions when they even mention the dreaded “v” word.

The basic problem for the Democrats is that Americans are not instinctive losers. And because the Democratic base is split between moderates who want to surrender in Iraq, and liberals who want to surrender generally, they can’t exploit the biggest vulnerability Republicans have, which is, of course, the war. Any time the Democrats are forced to take a position on the war, they alienate a part of their base, and embarrass themselves in the process. This is why last week’s defeat of the two surrender declarations in the Senate is such good news for Republicans; the Democrats appear to have made surrender the essential theme of their political platform. As a result, they may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory come November.

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