"As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be-President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. 'When comes the end?' ... And as soon as he became president, he brought the Korean War to an end." This was part of freshman Virginia Sen. Jim Webb's much ballyhooed stentorian Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union address.
One wonders if the untold millions of North Koreans who've starved, bled and died since then would similarly applaud Eisenhower's courage and wisdom. For more than half a century, North Korea has been a prison-camp society beyond the imagining of George Orwell, where public executions for stealing food are familiar events. The man-made famine of the 1990s alone claimed the lives of up to 1 million people (hard data from Stalinist regimes are difficult to come by).
One also wonders: When are our troops going to come home? Technically, the Korean War isn't really over. We're merely enjoying a cease-fire - much like the one we had with Iraq in the 1990s.
While Webb favors a "formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq," our forces in South Korea have been there for nearly six decades. Something tells me the antiwar base of the Democratic Party doesn't have that sort of timetable in mind for Iraq.
So, except for the fact that the Korean War didn't end, our troops are still there, and the outcome has been the source of humanitarian and national security nightmares, Webb's salute to Eisenhower's statesmanship really strikes home.
In fairness, Webb is a thoughtful man who takes foreign affairs more seriously than most politicians. But his closest-weapon-to-hand style of attack against Bush does not reflect well on him or the Democratic Party that chose him to be its representative.
But it is revealing. Indeed, the Democratic Party's most honest moment Tuesday night came not in Webb's brusque words but in the Democrats' brusquer body language.
The president asserted that no one wants failure in Iraq. Understandably, the commander in chief wanted to avoid conceding how very real a possibility failure is, so he chose his rhetoric carefully. He spoke in the abstract about the bipartisan desire for victory and success.
And yet the Democrats for the most part sat on their hands, refusing to applaud, never mind rise in favor of such statements from a wartime president.
Then, when the president mentioned ending genocide in Darfur, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her party leaped to their feet.
Perhaps such applause is mere grace on the cheap. Democrats know they can count on their beloved United Nations to prevent serious intervention in Sudan's civil war. Or maybe the Democrats really want action in Darfur, even though that would put us smack dab in the middle of a civil war, which Jack Murtha, Joe Biden, and other war critics invoke as a classic blunder the way Vizzini referred to land wars in Southeast Asia in "The Princess Bride."
The 11th Commandment for liberals seems to be, "Thou shalt not intervene out of self-interest." Intervening in civil wars for humanitarian reasons is OK, but meddling for national security reasons is not. This would explain why liberals supported interventions in civil wars in Yugoslavia and Somalia but think being in one in Iraq is the height of folly. If only Truman had called the Korean civil war a humanitarian crisis, Ike might not have called the whole thing off.
None of this explains why Democrats are so eager to support continued U.S. fighting against the Taliban as part of NATO forces in Afghanistan, even though that puts us between two sides in what amounts to an Afghan civil war. But maybe Afghanistan is a humanitarian crisis too. Or maybe it's an excuse for Democrats to prove they are still tough as far as foreign policy. Or maybe Democrats simply think the war in Iraq is lost, while there's still hope in Afghanistan ... assuming there's a principle in there somewhere.
There seems to be only one hope for persuading the Democrats to support staying in Iraq. Let's just beat the rush and call Iraq a humanitarian crisis now. It surely is already. And if we leave prematurely, Iraq will undoubtedly give Darfur and Yugoslavia a run for their money as a humanitarian horror show. Why wait for calls to return to stop the bloodshed?
It's even possible that an Iraq left to fend for itself might become a national security threat on a par with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Not that national security should factor into it.