Politics & Policy

The Wrong Debate

Dangerous Democratic wavelength.

…There is a test as a commander in chief as to when you send young Americans off to war, because I know what happens when you lose that consent…. George Bush failed that test in Iraq…. And he’s run the most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country.

–Sen. John Kerry

This man was a homicidal maniac, killed hundreds of thousands of people, did have weapons of mass destruction in the ’90s, used them against the Kurdish Iraqis and the Iranians, admitted to the United Nations he had enough chemical and biological to kill millions of people, supported terrorism, tried to assassinate former President Bush. I repeat: We are safer with Saddam Hussein in prison than in power.

–Sen. Joseph Lieberman

–On Tuesday, New Hampshire Democrats will make their choice for the man to challenge U.S. President George W. Bush in November. Looking from abroad, particularly from Israel, the question is where does the Democratic party stand on the first great struggle of the 21st century, the struggle between the West and militant Islam? Judging from their debate on Thursday, most of the party has chosen a worrisome dividing line with the president in their quest to retake the White House.

Sift through the Democrats’ tough talk about terrorism and a clear divide emerges. All of them, except Joseph Lieberman, believe that the way to fight terrorism is the old-fashioned pre-9/11 way: by treating it as an international policing problem. Take for example the surprise second-place finisher in the Iowa caucuses, Sen. John Edwards: “If you look at the map of where these terrorist organizations are, where they operate, the most critical thing that’s missing from this administration is a working relationship with many of the countries in which these groups operate.”

A “working relationship?” America’s problem, in Edwards’s mind, seems to be that the U.S. does not have better relations with countries like Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

Here’s how Howard Dean explained how he came to oppose the war in Iraq: “My conclusion was there was no al-Qaida in Iraq… Iraq was not about to acquire nuclear weapons… My conclusion was that we’d successfully contained Saddam Hussein.” Setting aside the evidence that Saddam’s secret services did have an intimate connection with al Qaeda, this is pre-9/11 thinking par excellence.

Then, the U.S. acted as if its only task were to track down the terrorist organizations themselves, while the nations that supported the terrorists were barely confronted or threatened. This policy was perhaps understandable before 9/11, but how can it be understood now? How can Wesley Clark, for example, describe his policy thus: “We’re going to go after the terrorist networks. We’re going to go after Osama bin Laden…. And we’ll use all the resources of the United States–international law, diplomacy, allies, economics and military force, if necessary–to keep this country safe.” Combine the focus on one terrorist with Clark’s waffling on the war in Iraq and it is clear that Democrats do not support the most critical aspects of the Bush Doctrine: preemptive action and regime change.

The fact that the Democratic candidates as a whole do not support these Bush foreign-policy planks is shown by their contrast with the only one who does: Joseph Lieberman. Lieberman obviously has criticisms of Bush’s foreign policy, but on the key question of principle–should support for terrorism be punishable by regime change?–he seems to be the only Democrat willing to agree with Bush.

That the American foreign-policy debate has shaken out in this manner is bad for the Democratic party, for the U.S., and for the world, certainly including Israel. After 9/11, there should be no debate over the need to prevent governments from supporting terrorism. If this is possible short of regime change, as may be the case with Libya, then fine (though tyranny should not be accepted blindly even it is not combined with terrorism).

But there should be no illusion that it is impossible to win against terrorism with police measures while not holding governments responsible for threatening international security. Accepting this principle does not mean ending the debate. We do not claim that George Bush has found the right mixture of measures to take the war to its next stage, which means confronting Iran and Syria. But calling for a “working relationship” with rogue regimes is not the answer, and shows that the Democrats are engaged in the wrong debate.

This editorial first appeared in the Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission.

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