This is Bigger Than Bush

Posted: May 14, 2004 12:00 AM

I'd trade a Bush defeat for an Iraq victory any day.

I say this because not a day goes by without me receiving a barrage of e-mail from readers asserting that I'm - just like everyone else on the right - allowing my "partisanship" for Bush to color my views on the war, the media, my dog, my reason to live, whatever.

The truth is more like the other way around: Right now, I support Bush because I am such a partisan for winning in Iraq.

Of course, I would support Bush over Kerry even if we weren't at war, because Bush is the more conservative candidate and I'm not on crack. But if it weren't for the war, I wouldn't think it was nearly as important that Bush got reelected.

While he's been good on judges, tax cuts and a few other issues, there's a great deal to Bush's "big government conservatism" that should bother conservatives and traditional Republicans. But the stakes in Iraq are so great for America and the world that I would gladly trade a Kerry presidency for a stable and decent Iraq moving toward democracy.

In fairness, not all Republicans agree with me. It seems that some Republicans are sticking with the war because they're sticking with Bush.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Trust in a leader is often the decisive factor in support for bold and risky actions, like war. FDR secured the New Deal not so much because it was such a good idea but because people trusted FDR. Indeed, FDR and Woodrow Wilson both swore they would keep America out of war, but voters trusted them when they changed their mind.

Also, many conservative war supporters believe, fair or not, that a Kerry presidency would be a disaster for the war on terror. So even if Bush hasn't done everything right, we still think Bush's victory is essential to America's victory.

But if it's hard to disaggregate the motives of Bush's supporters, it's fairly easy to identify the competing motives of Bush's detractors.

Every day, it seems like more and more Democrats think it would be worth losing in Iraq if it meant winning the White House. Valuing partisan advantage more than foreign policy was obviously the motivation behind John Kerry's vote against the $87 billion for Iraqi reconstruction.

Remember, a mere month before the vote, Kerry was asked if he would vote against the appropriation. He told CBS' "Face the Nation" "I don't think any United States senator is going abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running. That's irresponsible. ... I don't think anyone in Congress is going to not give our troops ammunition, not give our troops the ability to be able to defend themselves."

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Kennedy's rhetoric makes him tantamount to a cheerleader for American defeat in Iraq. Last month, he chose the worst days of the insurgency as the perfect opportunity to declare Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam," which almost instantly became Muqtada al-Sadr's talking point. Since then, Kennedy has taken every opportunity to make the old adage about leaving politics at the water's edge into proverbial toilet paper.

Now, there are plenty of prominent liberals who do see winning the war as more important than hurting Bush, which is not to say they wouldn't cheer if Bush lost. My short, but not exhaustive, list includes: Sen. Joe Lieberman, the editors of The New Republic, Christopher Hitchens, the Washington Post editorial board, Michael Ignatieff, Tom Friedman, Sen. Zell Miller and a few others.

But when things go badly in Iraq, particularly in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, there's a detectable, albeit restrained, glee from the likes of Kennedy and Paul Krugman of The New York Times and others.

Hundreds of liberals have e-mailed me saying, in effect, their partisanship is "payback" for how conservatives undermined President Clinton. There are two responses to this. First, shame on you. If you thought it was wrong to "undermine" Clinton during peacetime, why is it right to do it to Bush during a war?

Secondly, conservatives didn't commit the wrong Bush-haters claim. Many Republicans, as well as National Review, the Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal - the alleged trinity of Clinton-hating journalism - all supported Clinton on NAFTA, Yugoslavia and even on the "wag-the-dog" attacks in Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. After the famous Afghanistan and Sudan strikes, Newt Gingrich spoke for the GOP leadership when he said, "I think, based on what I know, that it was the right thing to do at the right time."

Marching against a president you oppose is fine. But it's not worth trampling American security to do it.

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