The jaws of defeat

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The Democratic Party today reminds me of the hunter who carefully laid a trap for a bear, and when he came back the next day he forgot where he put it, stepped wrong and got caught in it, and then was himself eaten by the bear.

The game trophies of this year’s midterm elections and the 2008 presidential elections, both now appearing to favor the Democrats, could end up in the jaws of Democratic defeat.

There is an invisible civil war in the Democratic Party now underway, and it is between those who are attempting to satisfy the defeatist and pacifist left base of the party and those who are attempting to prepare the party for successful elections in 2006 and 2008.

At the center of this has been party Chairman Howard Dean, now increasingly joined by the two other party spokesmen — Senate Minority leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

A string of bad news from the Middle East had emboldened this trio into calling for premature retreat from Iraq and thus defeat for the United States, hoping of course that the blame for the defeat would fall on President Bush and the Republican Party, which also controls both houses of Congress. Until recently, Mr. Bush remained silent to most of the criticism of the war and the repetitive allegations of deception that many Democrats have claimed got us into that war.

This combination, coupled with sudden rising gasoline prices, provoked a precipitous fall in the president’s support in the opinion polls, and only further induced the three horsemen of the Middle East apocalypse — Mr. Dean, Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi — to expound their denunciation and defeatism only louder.

We already knew that Mr. Dean was a screamer, and I warned on these pages less than a year ago that naming him chairman of the party was institutionalizing a political disaster to come. I do not doubt that Mr. Dean is sincere. This only makes his presence as the Democratic spokesman more perilous for the party’s prospects. Party liberals and moderates said he would mind his fundraising and not get into trouble. Now they may have to fire him or face losing excellent electoral opportunities this year and in 2008.

Calmer heads such as Rep. Steny Hoyer and Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (House assistant minority leader and congressional campaign chair), Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman and others have tried to steer public interest away from the volatile issue of the Iraq war and toward much more fertile political ground in domestic policy issues. But none of them has the natural podia that the three apoplectic horsemen have, and a party civil war is resulting.

Now that Mr. Bush is finally acknowledging mistakes that were made, is beginning to explain his policy in Iraq and the Middle East and is asserting that our goal is victory and not stalemate, the hot air in the Dean-Reid-Pelosi balloons has brought them back to the political earth where shrill rhetoric, empty of an alternative other than defeat, is a losing argument.

The war in Iraq and the prospects for a genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors are not, of course, yet resolved. There may not be, in the near future, a neat and exact conclusion to them. Wars and long-brewing conflicts are always messy, and in our present age, when the violence of war and hate are broadcast simultaneously for all to see, resolution is even harder to realize.

But there should be no ambiguity that American foreign policy today is consistent with what it has been for almost 100 years, beginning with World War I, when we emerged as a superpower, and continuing through World War II and the Cold War. Yes, we are always pursuing our self-interests, as every nation must, but uniquely in history the United States is also using its “super” power to improve the conditions of the whole world and to protect it from predators.

The predators, alas, seem always with us, whether they be the kaiser, Hitler and Mussolini, Japanese militarists, Stalin and Marxist totalitarians, Balkan thugs, Saddam Hussein or small groups of Islamic fascist terrorists.

The Democratic Party was in control of the government at the outset of the Cold War. President Truman, Hubert Humphrey, Henry “Scoop” Jackson and other Democrats then heroically led and defined the defense of the free world against totalitarian Marxism. At the end of the Cold War, however, the Democrats for the most part abandoned the fight, and allowed President Reagan to claim (rightfully) the victory. Subsequently, the Republican Party has become, for the time being, the majority party in America.

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