If Senate Democrats decide to “sunset” the use of force resolution adopted prior to the invasion of Iraq, they will again invite a comparison with those Democrats who pulled the plug on South Vietnam a generation ago. Rescinding the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was the first step Democrats took in 1971 on the path leading eventually to a ban on all military operations in Indochina, the cutting of aid to Saigon and the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975.
But Vietnam was not the end of the story. The year after the communist victory in Indochina, Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected president in the wake of the Watergate scandal. His brief tenure is now remembered by such terms as malaise, stagflation and the misery index. Another term was “hollow army.” Combat divisions only had half the equipment they needed. Aircraft were cannibalized for space parts. Navy shipbuilding was cut in half.
The ultimate aim of the “anti-imperialist” political left is to constrain U.S. ability to act “unilaterally” in world affairs. Books like Tom Englehardt’s “The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation “(1995) embrace the failure in Vietnam as a remedy for centuries of “triumphalism” dating back to the Colonists wresting land from the Indians.
Mr. Englehardt was worried, however, that with the easy victory in the Gulf war might restore Americans’ confidence. Failure in Iraq is now needed to drive home the lesson that the U.S. should leave the outside world alone and repent its past sins.
The United States was able to win a quick victory over Iraq in 1991 because of the military buildup initiated by President Ronald Reagan, who defeated Mr. Carter in 1980 using the slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.”
But there was determined opposition to the Reagan program, a program that both expanded and modernized the armed forces. Today, some of the same groups created to block the Reagan program work with the new Democratic majorities in Congress to push America back to the 1970s.
According to an April 25 article in The Washington Post about how the Democrats are improving their oversight skills, “Every month, about 30 staff members attend workshops held on the Hill by the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.” This group was founded in 1981 as the Project on Military Procurement by Dana Rasor, who is still its treasurer. The Project stayed away from issues regarding strategy or the Cold War in favor of using “scandals” like overpriced hammers and coffemakers to kill major projects.
A prime target was the M-1 tank, which Mr. Rasor asserted in books and congressional testimony was “a very bad tank.” Its tracks wore out too soon, its hydraulic fluid was too flammable, its turbine engine burned too much fuel.
That the M-1 marked a major advance in combat capability over the M-60 tank it was replacing did not matter (or maybe that was the point). It was not perfect, so it should not be built (an argument used again regarding missile defenses). Of course, the M-1 turned out to be an unequaled fighting vehicle: fast, hard-hitting and extremely durable. It will continue as the mainstay of Army and Marine armored units well into the future.
POGO still targets the Pentagon’s most advanced weapons programs for termination. Last July, POGO criticized the Senate for authorizing the purchase of 20 F-22 Raptor fighters each year for 2008, 2009, and 2010. POGO objected to using multiyear procurement because it “would essentially lock the government into buying the 60 additional troubled F-22A’s and minimize the possibility that the program could suffer further funding cuts.” The F-22 is to replace the F-15, a 30-year-old aircraft, as the Air Force’s high-performance, stealth tactical fighter.
In a dynamic world of technological progress, a new generation of fighters is needed to assure the kind of air superiority American ground forces have taken for granted since World War II. It is the foundation of U.S. power projection capabilities, which is exactly why the left hates it.
Many conservatives have accused Democrats of embracing defeat in Iraq for partisan reasons, playing on Bush administration mistakes in the early phases of the occupation to win seats in Congress and perhaps the White House in 2008.
But it is more than party politics. It is ideology. The left wants the United States to withdraw from the game of global power politics. This would allow militant Islam, a rising China and others with aggressive tendencies to step forward. But that is irrelevant to ideologues who have fabricated their own notions of how the world should (but doesn’t) work. Do most rank-and-file Democrats really want a rerun of that ‘70s show?
William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for National Security Studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation, Washington, D.C.