Don't expect the Democratic presidential contenders to let
patriotism interfere with their political aspirations once the war with Iraq
begins. Although it's customary to refrain from criticizing the commander in
chief in time of war, the Democrats who want to replace President Bush can't
afford to honor tradition.
With the first caucuses and primaries less than a year away, those seeking
the Democratic nomination have no time to waste being responsible. There is
all that Hollywood peacenik money to be raised, not to mention the danger
that Bush's popularity might soar once the fighting begins. Even if one or
two of the Democratic contenders tried to do the right thing, the others
would simply turn up the rhetorical heat to score points at their expense.
Think this is simply paranoid, partisan fantasy? Not according
to some well-respected Democrats.
Top contender Sen. John Kerry's campaign manager, Jim Jordan,
predicts, "You'll see for a certain amount of time an absence of criticism
of the commander in chief. But just as it became incumbent for Democrats to
offer observations and even criticism of the administration post-9/11, that
will happen again here, I'm sure," he recently told the Los Angeles Times.
"Everyone's going to support our troops," promises Democratic
National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, but, he warns, "We will not sit
on the sidelines while more people lose their jobs and more families are
left without health care." Translation: The Democrats will say nice things
about the men and women in uniform but won't hesitate to demagogue the
fellow who sends them into battle.
No one expects the Democrats to postpone their presidential
nomination process for the duration of the war. But second-guessing the
incumbent's foreign and defense policy as a means to win the nomination is
bad for the country and could backfire on the Democratic Party as well,
especially if voters think candidates are doing so primarily for partisan
gain. The Democrats are already in danger of looking opportunistic with
their criticism of the president's handling of the war on terrorism and the
Democrats have accused the president of neglecting the fight
against terrorism in order to pursue a war against Iraq. "It's the
terrorists who represent the greater threat," claims Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL),
who this week announced his presidential bid.
The Democrats' case looks trumped up, however, in light of the
apprehension last week of two top al Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attack, and Mustafa Ahmed
al-Hawsawi, its alleged financier. Indeed, the war against international
terrorism has been going well. This war is, by nature, slow and tedious,
with much of the fight itself invisible. Nonetheless, the United States and
its allies have arrested hundreds of al Qaeda-trained men, have interrupted
the flow of funds used to finance terrorist operations, and have driven
those leaders not already killed or apprehended further underground, where
it is more difficult to accomplish their evil aims.
Several key Democrats have also criticized the administration
for its unwillingness to take a hard line against North Korea, implying that
they think Kim Il Jong is a bigger threat than Saddam Hussein and that they
would support military action against North Korea if the rogue nation keeps
up its belligerence. These new Democrat hawks -- an oxymoron, if recent
history is any guide -- point to Bill Clinton's handling of a similar crisis
during his presidency. Contrary to revisionist claims that Clinton almost
went to war when the North Koreans started acting up in the mid-1990s, in
fact, Clinton took Teddy Roosevelt's dictum and turned it on its head.
Instead of talking softly and carrying a big stick, Clinton talked loudly
and carried a big carrot -- namely millions of dollars in U.S. aid and help
in building two North Korean light-water nuclear reactors.
The Democrats have their work cut out for them wresting control
of the White House from a popular president. The way to do it isn't by
undermining U.S. foreign policy.