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Choosing the right general for the war
By Steven Martinovich
It is not an exaggeration to argue that this November's presidential election is a referendum on competing visions on how terrorism is to be dealt with. George W. Bush's preferred solution -- a military response to terrorist attacks and imminent threats -- has been demonstrated by two wars. The approach advocated by the Democrats and John Kerry, a return to the law enforcement days of the Clinton-era, represents a radical departure from current policy.
It also promises to make the United States an easier target and will send a signal of weakness, argues Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson (Ret.), author of Reckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undercut Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers, and Jeopardize Our Security. The Democrats have not had a responsible and coherent national security policy for decades, he states, and Kerry continues in the tradition of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
"The Democrats' record is clear and unmistakable: from the fiasco of John F. Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pugs to Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson's disastrously managed intervention in Vietnam; from the humiliating Iranian hostage crisis during the administration of Jimmy Carter to the botched rescue attempt at Desert One; from President Clinton's spasmodic and pointless interventions in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and Bosnia, to the litany of terrorist attacks against which he ordered no effective response."
Patterson argues that since the liberal wing took control over the Democratic Party in the early 1970s it has systematically tried to gut America's military and rejected the nation's founding principles and values when it comes to national security policy. He writes that Democrats have made social issues their overwhelming priority and alternately view the military as either a roadblock to social change, a testing ground for new theories or a tool to export them abroad. Rather than ask how a mission advances American interests, he charges that Democrats simply throw bodies at the latest crisis du jour, even while heavily cutting the size of the military during the 1990s.
That irresponsibility reached its crescendo during the Clinton era, says Patterson. The United States, its citizens and its interests were repeatedly struck by al-Qaida and yet little was done to respond. Clinton, who Patterson served as an aide to, unintentionally sent the message that the U.S. had no stomach to fight and when challenged would rather pull stakes -- as it did in Somalia -- than answer blow for blow. Terrorist groups openly declared their intentions and began gaining operational capabilities to deliver on their promises but the Clinton administration preferred dealing with the problem with law enforcement resources.
Although Patterson's wider target is the Democratic Party, there is no mistaking that Reckless Disregard is primarily aimed at Kerry, whom he denounces repeatedly and in the strongest terms. Speaking plainly, Patterson attacks virtually every aspect of Kerry's career, from his service in Vietnam -- which he tried to avoid by seeking a deferment to study in France -- to his actions as a senator. Patterson declares that since returning from Vietnam, Kerry's agenda has essentially been to weaken the U.S. military and rely on international law and non-violent options to respond to threats.
"John Kerry's anti-military history and senatorial voting record make him the obvious heir to the George McGovern tradition in the Democratic Party. ... He has repeatedly and consistently opposed the very weapon systems that our men and women in uniform are relying on today to fight and win the war on terrorism. If Kerry had been our president, what would our military have fought with in the first Gulf War, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq? Slingshots and tin cans connected with strings?"
Although Patterson's rhetoric can be overheated at times, he raises a myriad of points about Kerry, his record and the Democratic Party that few in the media seem interested in investigating. Kerry, for example, has repeatedly brought up his military service as one reason for his fitness to command yet the tough questions about that service and his conduct upon his return seem to be of little interest to most in the fourth estate. Equally, one might wonder why his vague national security proposals haven't been more vigorously challenged considering they represent a fundamental shift in course from the current administration's policies.
Reckless Disregard is a commendable effort to ask these and many other questions, ones that at some point before November must be answered. It's not enough for Kerry and the Democrats to be opposed to the Bush Doctrine and the president's war on terrorism; they must also explain why what they are for will work better. If anything, Reckless Disregard spotlights that this may be the most important American election in decades and how vital it is for Americans to know where both sides stand. If Patterson's judgments are correct, clearly one of the parties is demonstrably unfit for the arduous journey that lies ahead.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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