At the daily White House press briefing Tuesday (March 18), presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked about comments by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle on war with Iraq. Fleischer said that Daschle has been "inconsistent," first supporting a policy of force to oust Saddam Hussein and then opposing it.
A look at the record supports Fleischer's accurate, if charitable, characterization of Daschle as "inconsistent." Speaking to a labor union audience last Monday (March 17), Daschle said, "I'm saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war; saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic efforts that was so critical for our country."
Last October, Daschle voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The previous month, he said, "We ought not politicize this war. We ought not politicize the rhetoric about war and life and death .. We have to rise to a higher level .. It is not too late to forget the pollsters . the campaign fund-raisers . (the) accusations about how interested in national security," different parties are (Congressional Record 9/25/02).
Daschle said he "never once" politicized the 1991 Gulf War and hoped there would be "the same level of debate this time." In 1998, Daschle said, "Saddam Hussein leaves us little choice" but "the use of force." He also said, "Iraq must comply (with U.N. resolutions). There is no choice. We stand united in our determination to do whatever is necessary .." He also called for "immediate Iraqi compliance" or "threat by force" would be "required." Those remarks came during the Clinton administration but apparently they are "inoperative" now that a Republican president occupies the White House.
Contrast the statements and behavior of Daschle with those of the late Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-Wash.). At a 1984 White House ceremony posthumously awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jackson, Ronald Reagan noted that Jackson was "a great patriot who loved freedom first, last and always."
Reagan said, "Henry Jackson was a protector of the nation, a protector of its freedoms and values . (he) understood that there is great good in the world and great evil, too .." Reagan said that Jackson's views "sprang from the heart of the F.D.R. tradition of foreign policy: We accept our responsibilities in the world; we do not flee them."
Jackson, said Reagan, "absorbed within himself the three strains of thought that go to the making of a noble foreign policy: a love of freedom; a will to defend it; and the knowledge that America could not and must not attempt to float along alone, a blissful island of democracy in a sea of totalitarianism."
Jackson, who came to Congress in 1941, was from a generation that put his own country before career or politics. He would rather America win conflicts and be strongly defended and export freedom to the world than be concerned about which party received the credit. As Reagan wonderfully put it 19 years ago, "Scoop Jackson believed in a strong defense for one reason: because it would help preserve the peace by deterring military violence. He believed in arms control, because he wanted a more secure world. But he refused to support any arms control initiative that would not, in his judgment, serve the security interests of the nation and ensure the survival of the West."
In receiving the award, Jackson's widow summed up his philosophy: "If you believe in the cause of freedom, then proclaim it, live it and protect it, for humanity's future depends upon it."
When it came to love of country and freedom, there was not an inconsistent bone in Jackson's body. We could use more of his type of Democrat and less of the type represented by politicians who care more about the next election, power and their careers than they do the nation.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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