We have to win

Mona Charen

9/9/2003 12:00:00 AM - Mona Charen

In the two years since last Sept. 11, 2001, the war against terror has often been compared with the Cold War. As with all historical analogies, this one is only partially applicable.

The Cold War was a battle of ideas competing for world dominance. On every continent, communist and democratic states vied for the hearts and minds of the people -- with each new country seized by the communists becoming for a time the stage upon which the drama of communism versus freedom was played out for a world audience.

But in this war, there is no chance that Islamofascism will appeal to non-Muslims. It is far closer to a culture clash than a political or ideological struggle.

Still, in one way, the resemblance is undeniable, and that is in the role played by liberals and Democrats. Throughout the second half of the Cold War -- roughly from 1967 to 1991, liberals found fault with every American exertion against the communist world. What began in Vietnam continued through the 1970s and '80s with support for arms control at any price, benevolence toward the communist guerillas in El Salvador and the communist government in Nicaragua, discomfort with arming the anti-communist Mujahadeen in Afghanistan (please don't write and say we armed Osama bin Laden because it just isn't true) and the Contras in Nicaragua, and an almost pathological distrust of the United States military.

Throughout the latter half of the Cold War, liberals discounted the dangers posed by our enemies and persisted in the belief that American power, not the communist threat, posed the greatest danger to world peace.

Today, many -- though by no means all -- Democrats are sliding on their old, comfortable foreign policy shoes. Many of the Democratic candidates for president have chosen to attack President Bush for devoting too little attention to homeland security. They argue that our ports stand virtually unmonitored. President Bush should welcome this argument.

In the first place, he has reconfigured a big chunk of the federal government to accommodate homeland security. But second, if the Democrats want to argue that the best response to 9-11 is better port inspection and radiation detectors at airports, that's fine. In his speech Sunday night, the President reiterated what he has said many times since 9-11. We are fighting with our soldiers and Marines there so that we will not have to fight with our police, firemen and doctors here.

Democrats are also very keen to "internationalize" the Iraq operation -- perhaps because they have such a deep aversion to assertions of American military might. The president is bowing to their concerns a bit by going to the United Nations and asking for more support. But it isn't at all clear that asking for foreign soldiers at this point is a good idea.

In the first place, it sends an unfortunate signal to the Arab world that the United States is tiring -- that the bombings, assassinations and terror inflicted on our troops are working to damage our morale. Second, as Tom Donnelly writes in this week's Weekly Standard, nations that can offer sizable numbers of well-trained troops, like India, are unlikely to agree. And Turkey, which might be happy to send forces, could destroy the fragile stability in Northern (Kurdish) Iraq. Would we really want Pakistani troops in Iraq? Their loyalties would not be at all clear.

The Democratic candidates have repeated again and again that they do not want American soldiers walking around Iraq with targets on their backs. Well, who does? But we don't want Americans reporting to work in skyscrapers with targets on their backs either, do we?

Some liberals are smirking that the president got himself into all this trouble in Iraq by fighting a discretionary war. They go on to urge that the threat was never real in the first place, seeing as how the weapons of mass destruction have not yet been found. While it's true that if the weapons are never found we will know that our intelligence was horribly, terribly wrong, it will not follow that the war was a mistake.

Yes, rebuilding Iraq is proving hard and dangerous. But the rebuilding, like the lightning war, is part of the larger war on terror. And if we fail in rebuilding Iraq (and we would if we followed the Democrats' cut and run advice), the result for the United States and the world would be quite frightening to contemplate.

And so, to quote former President Clinton in a very different context, "We just have to win then."