Blaming America first

Linda Chavez
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Posted: May 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Ted Kennedy should be ashamed of himself. On Monday, Kennedy proclaimed from the floor of the Senate, "We now learn Saddam's torture chamber reopened under new management." We have learned no such thing. As disgraceful, vicious and wicked as the actions of a handful of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison were, they are not morally equivalent to the systematic torture and murder of thousands of men, women and children that took place for decades under Saddam Hussein.

 We still do not fully know what happened at Abu Ghraib between October and December 2003, when American soldiers photographed naked Iraqi prisoners in humiliating, sexually degrading poses. But the picture that has emerged this week in testimony by those who have investigated the incidents suggests the abuse was not part of some systematic policy of trying to break down prisoners before interrogation, but the actions of a small number of U.S. military personnel who suffered from "a lack of discipline; no training whatsoever; and no supervision," according to the report of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. "We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition," Taguba testified this week.

 Months before the pictures of abused prisoners were broadcast around the world on CBS two weeks ago, setting off a storm of outrage, investigations into the incidents were underway, and several persons had already been reprimanded, relieved of their duties or were awaiting criminal prosecution. There appears to be no cover-up here, no dereliction of duty to punish those guilty of abuse. So why have some Democrats tried to turn the Abu Ghraib abuse into a partisan weapon?

 Twenty years ago, former U.N. ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick coined the phrase "the blame-America-first crowd" to describe Democrats' attitude when any problem cropped up around the globe. "When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the 'blame America first crowd' didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States," Kirkpatrick said in a speech to the 1984 Republican convention.

 "But then, they always blame America first," she noted, listing a series of contemporary examples of Democrats' tendency to find fault with America for everything that goes wrong in the world.

 I had thought Democrats had abandoned this strategy, but they appear only to have modified it. Now when anything goes wrong anywhere, it's blame George W. Bush and his policies first. The actions of a few aberrant soldiers and the negligence of their direct superiors can't be to blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib prison over a three-month period, it must be Bush's fault or Donald Rumsfeld's or the policies they put in place.

 It wasn't just Ted Kennedy who put on a shameful display of partisan finger-pointing this week. With the exception of Sen. Joe Lieberman, virtually every Democrat who has spoken out on this issue has been quick to assume the abuse at Abu Ghraib was part of some systematic policy ordered, or at least condoned, by those in charge. "There's all kinds of evidence that military intelligence is involved here," Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl M. Levin said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, though the witnesses had just testified to the contrary. Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Jack Reed and New York Democrat Sen. Hillary Clinton implied that the abuse resulted from recommendations on interrogation methods made by the general who ran the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which holds suspected terrorists. In every case, the Democrats wish to turn this sorry incident into a weapon with which to beat George W. Bush.

 Perhaps the beheading of Nick Berg will refocus the Democrats' ire back where it belongs: on our enemies. We are involved in a difficult and prolonged war against the barbarians who committed this horrific act. They would do it to each of us if given the chance. And what we do not need are politicians who, for partisan political advantage, try to set up some terrible moral equivalence between the acts of our enemies and those of our elected leaders.