Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Sen. Joe Lieberman has set in motion an important line of discussion concerning post-Iraq War policy and politics. While he made a partisan — but not entirely unfair — critique of President Bush’s management of prewar preparations and postwar execution of policy, the crux of his speech was a fierce criticism of those Democrats who displayed a “disquietingzeal” questioning the necessity of the war: “[B]y their words, some in my party are sending out a message that they don’t know a just war when they see it, and more broadly, they’re not prepared to use our military strength to protect our security and the cause of freedom.” After his speech, he named Howard Dean, John Kerry and Richard Gephardt as fitting that description.

Jaded political analysts see his statement as merely an attempt to carve out a distinct position in the Democratic presidential primary contest. But it is more than that. Sen Lieberman is an inept campaigner, but a first-rate and serious statesman. And, he has essentially asked the age-old and crucial question in human affairs: Whose side are you on? It is the question that many Republicans have been afraid to ask. It is the same question that Ann Coulter has notoriously asked and answered in her current best-selling book, “Treason.” Sen. Lieberman has carefully avoided the pungency of the “T” word. But what would one call political leaders who were not prepared to use our military to protect our security and our freedom?

For those of us who believe that America and our way of life is in danger from jihadist terrorists and the WMD rogue states that help them (and that is at least two-thirds of Americans), it has been breathtaking to watch the glee and abandon with which elements of the media, the Democratic Party and our former allies in Europe have been attempting to turn our military victory in Iraq into a postwar debacle.

If we succeed in bringing order out of the chaos of Iraq, we advance measurably the effort to defeat the will and hope of the terrorists and their supporters. If Iraq becomes peaceful and law-abiding, can Iran, Syria and others be far behind? The dreadful sickness that has had the Middle East by the throat for generations will begin to abate, and we will be able to realistically dream of a more secure life once again.

But if we fail, then a hard and grievous future is before us. There is an old phrase that if you shoot at a king — don’t miss. Vastly more so is that true about going after the will of terrorists. If our effort at showing strength reveals only weakness, if we are driven from the field in ignominy, we will surely reap the terrorist whirlwind. As Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur once instructed: “There is no substitute for victory.”

And so, we return to Sen. Lieberman’s implicit question: Who’s side are you on? Of course, it is fair game to criticize the president’s handling of any aspect of his administration. Constructive suggestions for how to do a better a job are both fair and needed. Even cheap, vicious, lying accusations against the president’s domestic and non-critical foreign policies and politics are (perhaps regretfully) part of our political tradition. But what are we to conclude about the breathless Washington journalists who incorrectly, but genuinely, think they smell Watergate and Pulitzers as they obsessively try to destroy a president by undercutting public support for his vital Iraq effort? How are we to judge Democratic presidential aspirants who, half-crazed by their desperate search for votes, don’t even address the consequences of their opposition? Undercutting a life-and-death presidential policy without even considering the consequences is like tearing down a dam without first draining the water it contains. Only a flood of death can follow: American death; here, at home.

Democratic Sen. Lieberman has said that Democrats Howard Dean, Richard Gephardt and John Kerry are sending a message that they are “not prepared to use our military strength to protect our security and the cause of freedom.” Would it be unfair for a fearless Washington press corps to ask those men, “Whose side are you on?”

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