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Politicizing the war

By James Ruhland
web posted April 12, 2004

When it comes to politics and the war, it doesn't take much to get Democrats and their supporters in the media to cry "foul." We've heard frequent charges over the last two and a half years that the Republicans are "politicizing the war" or "questioning our patriotism" and "chilling debate." Rarely are these charges grounded in reality, because the truth is that the Democrats have done the most to politicize the war. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) claims the war was cooked up in Texas for political gain. But it is Kennedy and other proxies of the Kerry campaign who are trying to use the war for their political gain, and it is they who are questioning the patriotism of their opponents.

Last Monday, Sen. Kennedy called Iraq "Bush's Vietnam" and a "quagmire." On Wednesday Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), during an interview on NPR, called al Sadr, the radical cleric inciting violence against American and allied troops in Iraq, a "legitimate voice" and placed blame on us for closing his newspaper. While in reality al Sadr's supporters initiated the violence, Kerry asserted that we were "making war against the Iraqi people". This is far from the reality of the situation, and ignores the fact that al Sadr does not have widespread support among Iraq's Shi'ites. But it is unlikely Kerry will come in for the kind of criticism a Republican would have for making similar reckless and inaccurate assertions during the Clinton Administration.

It gets worse from there. The Democrats nakedly hope to use the 9/11 commission for political gain. On March 28th Donald Lambro reported in the Washington Times that the Democrats saw the 9/11 commission in political terms, as helping them and hurting Bush. The Chairman of the California Democratic Party, Bob Mulholland, was quoted saying that "the report will be a perfect introduction to the Democratic convention on July 26," and that the Commission will be a political bonanza for Democrats and Kerry's Presidential campaign. We don't have to imagine what the reaction would be if a prominent Republican Party official said 9/11 will be a political bonanza for Bush. But Mulholland's remarks were virtually ignored by the watchdogs of the press, who continue to pretend that the Democrats' insistence that Condi Rice testify in public before the commission has nothing to do with partisan politics.

To a greater extent than ever before, the press has chosen sides in a political campaign. Yes, they always had their biases but now they are applying clearly different standards of political decorum to the two parties, in ways that are manifestly intended to shape the terms of the debate in the Democrat's favor. They are engaged in politicizing the war in the same way the Democrats are. Their reports often uncritically repeat Democratic talking points.

A more accurate analysis would point out that the Democrats are attempting to fan people's fears and that they are playing footsie with the conspiracy-minded Left rather than offering serious criticisms and realistic policy alternatives. Take the oft-repeated claim that we should internationalize Iraq in the fashion that was done in Afghanistan and Kosovo, coupled with the implication that this would solve the security problems in Iraq and that the Bush Administration is solely responsible for the fact that countries like France are not on board. This ignores the fact that in Kosovo, the model they insist we should follow has hardly produced peace. A wave of ethnic cleansing and violence wracked the region again a few weeks ago. This was under-reported because it cuts against the conventional wisdom and might cause people to question Democratic assertions on Iraq. With respect to Afghanistan, the fact is that our coalition partners in Iraq are providing more than the world has provided for Afghanistan. There the involvement of the UN and the international community has, as in Kosovo, failed to produce the results that Democrats claim it will in Iraq.

But whenever counter-arguments are made to Democratic criticisms of the handling of the war, they and their supporters in the press complain that it is an effort to chill political debate. This is a farcical assertion to make, because raising counter-arguments to their critiques is an example of political debate at work. It is declaring such arguments out of bounds that is an effort to quash civic discourse by rendering the arguments of one side, the Right, illegitimate without having to rebut them on the merits.

This is done for the simple reason that if their arguments were looked at objectively it would be seen that the majority of Democratic criticisms of our war policies are serious only in seeking political advantage at home. They are not serious alternative strategies for victory in the war and indeed it's unlikely that most who are making them really believe them to be. Bush's policies are not above criticism and serious alternatives worthy of consideration may exist. But this simply highlights the fact that Left in this country prefers demagogy in pursuit of short-term political advantage to a more sober and reasoned critique because that isn't their mindset. More to the point it would not keep the hatreds of their base inflamed in the way that their ad hominem attacks and baseless charges do. A democratic nation benefits from a healthy political debate, but the Democratic Party's efforts to politicize the war and generate hysteria for political advantage shows that such a debate is not what they are interested in engaging in. The mainstream press lets them off the hook in these antics because they identify with their cause themselves, but a clear-eyed electorate will not take such rhetoric seriously.

James Ruhland lives in Colorado and writes at www.porphyrogenitus.net.

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