It was early 2002, right after the State of the Union Address in which President George W. Bush famously linked Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical Iraqi regime in an “axis of evil” with the rogue governments of Iran and North Korea. On a dais at the influential Council on Foreign Relations, the man whom Bush had defeated in the historically contentious 2000 election strode to the podium and delivered, of all things, a spirited defense of his nemesis.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Al Gore declaimed, “there really is something to be said for occasionally putting diplomacy aside and laying one’s cards on the table. There is value in calling evil by its name.” Recalling the Clinton administration’s fitful, feckless, and futile attempts to rein in the Iraqi dictator’s terror mongering and quest for weapons of mass destruction, the former vice president described Iraq as “a virulent threat in a class by itself.” As war clouds hovered, he darkly rued the U.S. failure to remove Saddam in 1991, boldly insisting that this time “failure cannot be an option, which means that we must be prepared to go the limit.”
As David Horowitz and Ben Johnson recount in their bracing new book, Party of Defeat, Democrats and their favorite Nobel laureates (Jimmy Carter having earned that distinction before Gore) certainly have been prepared to go to the limit on Iraq — that is, the outer limit of shame, and shamelessness.
By the next year, before a throng of MoveOn.org activists, an audience today’s predominantly antiwar Democrats are more comfortable addressing, Gore railed that President Bush had “engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology” — knowing full well, the authors observe, that the term is resonant of fascism, Nazism and Communism. Indeed, Gore’s volte face ultimately included the assertion that “[h]istory will surely judge America’s decision to invade and occupy a fragile and unstable nation that did not attack us and posed no threat to us as a decision that was not only tragic but absurd.”
This from the second-highest official of an administration which had repeatedly saber-rattled and fired missiles at Iraq — the same Clinton administration which had made regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. The administration whose top national-security officials told the 9/11 Commission as late as in 2004 — that is, even as Gore’s 180-degree turn was in mid-swirl — that its 1998 bombing of the al Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum was the right thing to do: After all, reliable intelligence showed the plant was a chemical-weapons venture jointly run by Sudan, Iraq, and al-Qaeda.
So why the treacherous flip-flop? In an ad horrendum indictment that piles fact onto sordid fact, Messrs. Horowitz and Johnson convincingly demonstrate that the modern Democrat leadership is singularly dedicated to delegitimizing and thus destroying the Bush presidency. Having calculated this political strategy, they are heedless of the fact that their tireless opposition, distortion, and propaganda can only lead to the defeat of the United States in what the authors aptly call the war with Islamofascism. In fact, many in the hard Left desire just that outcome. With both Bush and the America that he symbolizes as their targets, no betrayal is off the table.
David Horowitz, of course, is among the most gifted and consequential writers in the conservative movement — particularly insightful when diagnosing the Left’s bare-knuckles, will-to-power arsenal because he came of age in the radical orb. Ben Johnson is the managing editor of the feisty Frontpage Magazine, which is published online daily by Horowitz’s Freedom Center. In Party of Defeat, they recount “unprecedented attacks on an American president and a war in progress.” Describing and documenting the thrall in which the radical Left now holds the Democratic Party, the authors forcefully argue that the resulting “house divided” may lack the unity of national purpose necessary to defeat the perilous threat of jihadism.
The descent of a great political party — one whose determined patriotism was critical to the nation’s victory over Nazi Germany and imperial Japan — has been as predictable as it is disheartening. Many of today’s prominent Leftists were, in the sixties and seventies, heavily influenced by Soviet practices. The authors note that Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest Soviet intelligence official to defect to the West, has explained that “[s]owing the seeds of anti-Americanism by discrediting the American president was one of the main tasks” of his office. A president cannot rally the public to any great national cause if he becomes the object of distrust and ridicule. Propaganda campaigns toward that end were a Soviet priority.
And so it has been with President Bush. The authors recount that as the 2000 election controversy raged in Florida, Jesse Jackson thundered, “We will delegitimize Bush, discredit him, do whatever it takes but never accept him.” In short, the president’s ascendancy was bastardized from the start, long before 9/11 and Bush’s vigorous response to it gave vent to all the Left’s Vietnam-ized predispositions against the use of American power to further American purposes.
On this score, Horowitz and Johnson make two significant points, well illustrated by the Gore reversal and echoed by the furious flip-flopping of sundry Democrat leaders who were for the war before they were against it. First, the Left is hardly opposed to the use of force per se. The goal is always to acquire power. (Even seven years later, the deep-seated animus against President Bush has more to do with the 2000 election than with Iraq. It denied the Left power.) The acquisition of power inexorably requires political viability. In the aftermath of 9/11, viability meant being pro-war, so the Left, as long as it was expedient, became stridently pro-war . . . at least rhetorically.
Second, the objection to force is primarily to its employment in the service of American national interests. Clinton, the most instinctively anti-military of presidents, routinely dispatched the American armed forces to carry out this or that “humanitarian” mission — even as he delegated to Gore the task of gutting our defense and intelligence services under the guise of “reinventing government.” Beyond this internationalism, the Left’s program, reaffirming the McGovern/Carter tradition, is that American national interests must be subordinated because America is the problem in the world, the “imperial oppressor of the weak and the poor.” Thus, it follows, the just solution to global conflict is to appease America’s enemies since surely they must have a point.
Horowitz and Johnson unwind the Democrats’ assiduous campaign to misstate and discredit the case for deposing Saddam — posturing that Saddam’s putative pursuit of nukes and ready stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons constituted the only rationale offered by the Bush administration. The president’s reliance on this state of WMD development to frame Iraq as an “imminent” threat to the United States, and his assumptions (that proved to be overstated) about Saddam’s WMDs — the same assumptions Democrats had been positing throughout the 1990s — somehow became “lies” to support an unnecessary “war of choice.”
The narrative has stuck because it has been so often repeated and never effectively refuted by a communications-challenged administration which critically blundered by apologizing for saying something that was true — namely, the infamous “16 words” the president spoke in the 2003 State of the Union address, claiming that the British believed Saddam had sought uranium in Africa (a statement almost certainly true on two levels: British intelligence really did believe it and, as the despicable Joseph Wilson’s “investigation” unwittingly corroborated, Iraq probably did seek uranium ore in Niger). But none of the case withstands scrutiny.
The justification was multifaceted, not restricted to WMDs. Here, Horowitz and Johnson draw an important distinction between the rationale and the selling of war. Quite apart from its being known that Saddam had WMDs (because he had used them), the Iraqi regime was in defiance of a welter of United Nations resolutions. One might have thought this to be of some significance to Democrats, who see themselves as custodians of an international system they portray as viable for containing rogue regimes. Saddam, moreover, had spent over a decade cultivating ties to Islamic radicals, the evidence of which grows stronger with the passage of time, notwithstanding the Left’s steadfast effort to bleach them from the historical record.
In the post-9/11 threat environment, it would have been irresponsible to leave the Baathist regime in place under those circumstances. Bush never said the threat was imminent; he said that under the new circumstances — an ongoing war against a terror network that had demonstrated its capability, was seeking WMDs, and was abetted by rogue regime — those responsible for the nation’s security could not wait until the threat became imminent. But “imminent” or not, a war need not simply be justifiable; the American people must also be convinced it is the right course to pursue. It is commonplace for one justification to be stressed more than the others in selling the undertaking; such highlighting does not moot the other justifications.
None of this mattered to Democrats, who cavalierly slandered the president and even the troops. The failure to find the WMDs anticipated by the intelligence was framed to mean Bush had lied about the intelligence, and thus that the efforts and casualties of brave young men and women were based on a lie. Iraqi casualties were grossly overstated, an implicit war-crimes indictment bolstered by the respective claims of John Kerry, Dick Durbin, and John Murtha that American troops had “terrorized” Iraqis, comported themselves in the manner reminiscent of the Soviet Gulag or Pol Pot, and “killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”
In sum, the relentless assault on the justness of the cause and the honor with which it has been pursued, coupled with the remorseless determination to suppress any shred of positive news — the wild success of the surge, the rout of al-Qaeda (that would be the al-Qaeda Nancy Pelosi insists was never in Iraq before and would voluntarily leave if our forces did), the overriding reality that 26 million trapped in a hopeless, torturous dictatorship have been given the opportunity to live free — forms, according to the authors, a recipe for only one outcome: Defeat.
Defeat, of course, could also be framed as “victory” of a different kind. The fifth column operatives working toward America’s failure in Iraq seek not only to wrest power from Republicans — whom they limn as a threat markedly greater than radical Islam. They seek to wield power in a direction that is post-American. They are offended not merely by the national interests but by the very idea of America — free, self-determining, exceptional, and self-assured. That America denies their post-sovereign vision just as it thwarts bin Laden’s global caliphate.
To triumph over jihadist enemies so ruthless, determined, and certain history is on their side, the United States will need a level of commitment possible only if Americans are every bit as certain not only that we can win but that we deserve to win. That means what it has always meant throughout our history: that politics end at the water’s edge and that, in our great national purposes, we are a united people.
Civil libertarians will gasp at a controversial assertion by David Horowitz and Ben Johnson. The authors contend that while “dissent is a cherished and justly protected right in a democracy[,] … it is also a privilege.” It is contingent. It “exists only on condition that the government guarantees it is able to defend itself against enemies who would destroy it.” At a minimum, that condition calls for “the solidarity of [the nation’s] leaders in wartime.”
— National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy is author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.