What's left of the noble tradition of assertive liberal internationalism in the Democratic party is now gangrenous. The rot has gotten so bad that even some principled Democrats are amputating themselves from their own party. Retiring Democratic Senator Zell Miller announced on Thursday that he will endorse President Bush for re-election.
"This does not mean I am going to become a Republican," Miller said in a written statement. "It simply means that in the year 2004, this Democrat will vote for George Bush."
Miller's decision was prompted in part by his disgust with the Democratic presidential field. "It makes me ashamed. It's a disgrace for anyone to talk about - talk like that in a time of war," he told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "Using this war for political advantage can only give hope to our enemies. And when you do that, that's going to cost lives."
Miller's decision is the logical consequence of a party that, at the national level, has become consumed by appetite - for power, for payback, for partisan gain - and nothing more.
Take the Bush administration's $20 billion request for undoing the damage of decades of Iraqi dictatorship and war. Whether they think the war was necessary or not, reasonable people of all political persuasions outside the arena of partisan politics understand that the task of reconstructing Iraq is immensely necessary.
If the United States were to "bring the boys home" now, Iraq would implode. America would be seen as not merely a bully (which is not always bad, but rarely good) but a bully with a glass jaw - which, as every thinking person must understand, would be an invitation to disaster of precisely the sort that left the World Trade Center in ruins.
Of course, except for the odd character actors at the left end of the screen in the Democratic presidential debates, the leading candidates do not say they are in favor of immediate withdrawal. Rather, they spew clouds of verbiage about why we need to have a "plan" and insist that until we have a "plan" we should not spend money on Iraq.
Senators John Kerry and John Edwards voted for the war but against spending any money on Iraq's reconstruction. Wesley Clark and Howard Dean - the Democratic frontrunners - didn't get to vote, but they hold similar positions on reconstruction. All four now take the position of "If Bush is for it, Democrats must be against it."
Even the noble exceptions of Richard Gephardt and, to a lesser extent, Joseph Lieberman - who voted for the reconstruction funds - often couch their positions in terms that show they want to be seen as close allies of the naysayers.
Of course, the administration does have a plan. And central to that plan is, well, spending money to rebuild Iraq. Exactly what does a good liberal have to complain about?
For decades, or even a century, we've been hearing a host of propositions from liberals. Crime and violence are symptoms of poverty. The United States must do more than simply drop bombs; it must alleviate the "root causes" of terrorism, hopelessness, etc. America must be internationally oriented, looking to engage the world and help the unfortunate. It is in America's vital interests to come to the aid of the downtrodden. And, most recently and relevantly, America must get into the business of nation building.
All of this has been defenestrated by a Democratic party leadership that no longer spouts its Clinton-era mantra that partisanship should end at the water's edge. Instead, as Miller notes, even as we are fighting a guerilla battle where the enemy defines victory not in military terms but in its ability to weaken American resolve at home, Democrats are crassly undermining the safety of our troops, the credibility of our nation and the integrity of their own political philosophy by giving the terrorists precisely the victories they crave.
Every single good thing about liberalism in foreign policy would have the Democrats seeking more money for Iraq, especially now that the U.N. supports our efforts. In the tradition of FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Sen. Henry Jackson, liberals should be the ones demanding that we send more teachers, more doctors, more librarians and more troops to protect them. They should be standing on the tarmac helping to load another shipment of soft-ice-cream machines and Ping-Pong tables bound for Fallujah, Tikrit and Basra.
They should support it because it's the "nice" liberal thing to do, and they should support it because any sober-minded assessment of our interests dictates that we need to do it. By not supporting our efforts for either reason, they advance the rot of their principles and resurrect the impression that liberals cannot be trusted on foreign policy.
But these Democrats don't care, or at least they don't care enough. They see each setback in Iraq as a political opportunity. And they should be ashamed. Just ask Zell Miller.