October 17, 2003
Will Democrats Take 'Bug Out' Stance on Iraq?
By Mort Kondracke

By every standard except the short-term political, Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean and Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) have made a catastrophic decision in saying they oppose President Bush's $87 billion aid package for Iraq.

Another candidate, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) - who claims to be a national security expert - has said he's leaning toward the same politically suicidal and unconscionable position taken by Dean and Edwards.

Face it: Voting against the $87 billion means voting not to support U.S. troops now fighting for their lives and voting against the reconstruction of Iraq, where people's desperation will make life more dangerous for U.S. troops.

Such a vote is a vote to bug out of Iraq and leave it to the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein, his followers and international terrorists who will kill everyone who associated themselves with the United States and the goal of democratization.

If this were to be U.S. policy, it would destroy this country's standing in the world and fulfill the calculation of Osama bin Laden (and maybe Hussein, too): that the United States is a country of "weakness, frailty and cowardice," easily chased away when inflicted with even modest casualties.

Among the other leading Democratic candidates, Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) have forthrightly declared that America has to spend the money.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark put out the lame statement, "I'm running for president, not for Congress." But this is a presidential decision if there ever was one.

Even Kerry's hesitation about supporting the money is an indication that he is what Lieberman described him as months ago: an "uncertain trumpet" on issues of war and peace.

And if a majority of Democrats in either the House or the Senate ends up voting against the military supplemental spending bill, that will put a fatal brand on the Democratic Party. It will be the bug-out party.

The only way to explain the Edwards-Dean stance is as a massive pander to anti-Bush, anti-war sentiment raging in the Democratic Party and a response to polls indicating that the public at large opposes the $87 billion aid package.

It's true that a poll conducted by Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Stan Greenberg last week for National Public Radio showed that, by 55 percent to 42 percent, likely voters oppose the $87 billion.

But that's a feeble political reed on which to hang such a momentous decision as the abandonment of U.S. forces in the field and a people who have become America's responsibility.

Likely as not, it will prove a disastrous stance politically, too, especially if conditions improve in Iraq and Bush finally succeeds in convincing voters that his policies in Iraq are working.

In what might have been seen as low-blow politics, Republicans probably were going to accuse a Democratic nominee who criticized Bush's Iraq policy of somehow aiding Hussein and international terrorism.

But now, if the nominee is Dean or Edwards - or Kerry, if he sides with them - Bush can make that charge openly. And, it won't be a low blow. It will be totally true.

On a less important level, Dean can be accused of flip-flopping on the post-war finance issue. And Edwards can be accused of absolute incoherence.

Dean, though he opposed the war, said in CNBC's Sept. 25 Democratic debate in New York that America has "no choice" but to approve the $87 billion. Now, he's changed his view on the grounds that Bush refuses to pay for U.S. action in Iraq with increased taxes.

Democrats make a legitimate point that taxes should be raised to pay for the war, but to deny U.S. troops and Iraqis vital money on these grounds puts budgetary considerations ahead of national security - and America's moral duty.

Edwards, who voted to authorize the war in October 2002, argued insensibly, "I believe we have a responsibility to support our troops in Iraq. I believe we have a responsibility to help rebuild Iraq," but then said he opposes the money to achieve these aims.

He even said that "ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do and I stand by my vote." But he announced that he will vote not to finish the job he helped start.

Why? Because, he said, Bush has not laid out a "credible plan" for reconstruction, because Bush has "not engaged our allies in a meaningful way" and because "Bush's friends" may be getting "sweetheart deals" in reconstruction.

However, Bush is undercutting one of those premises by trying to win United Nations backing for the post-war effort - which, if it's not followed by aid and troop contributions from so-called "allies," will be their fault, not his.

And, what's a "credible plan"? The administration has said pretty precisely what it wants to spend $20 billion in reconstruction money on. It's eager to turn over more authority to the Iraqi Governing Council and hold elections as soon as they are feasible. And, it's trying to recruit Iraqis to be responsible for their own security.

As to "sweetheart deals," it's perfectly appropriate for Democrats to question construction contracts - and cry "scandal" if there is one. It's indefensible not to let construction go forward, however.

It's conceivable that Dean, Edwards or Kerry might declare that they knew Congress would approve Bush's request and that they were merely casting "protest votes." That's indefensible. Presidents and wannabe presidents don't cast protest votes. They lead.

The crowning rebuke to Democrats who oppose the supplemental is the evidence of what Iraqis want, as recorded in a new Gallup poll.

Only 26 percent of Baghdad's citizens want U.S. troops to leave "immediately" or "in the next few months." Seventy-two percent want them to stay longer. And these Democrats want to abandon them? It's a shameful position.

Mort Kondracke is the Executive Editor of Roll Call.


 


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