Every time Howard Dean opens his mouth, observers look back to the night of Jan. 19, 2004, the day of the Iowa caucuses. It was then that the former Vermont governor’s bid for the presidency collapsed in a roar of unhinged fervor. Mr. Dean’s own undoing meant he didn’t become commander in chief of the greatest military in world, though colleagues did reward him with the chairmanship of their party. In that capacity, he has drawn sharp criticism for his remarks about the war.
Mr. Dean told a San Antonio radio station earlier this week: “The idea that we’re going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong.” Actually, this takes us beyond the absurd and into the realm of the defeatism. Either Mr. Dean’s antiwar sentiment is so strong that for him no degree of victory in Iraq could justify America’s commitment; or his partisanship is so rank that he is willing to barter the cause our soldiers died for in exchange for political gain.
Mr. Dean’s remarks were unambiguous. Almost immediately, however, Mr. Dean’s handlers emerged to say that what their boss really meant is that the United States can’t win with the Bush administration’s strategy for victory. But what is Mr. Dean’s “strategy for victory”? Immediate withdrawal of the 80,000 National Guard and Reserve troops; redeploying 20,000 regular troops to Afghanistan; and installing “a force in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in a friendly neighboring country to fight [al Qaeda leader Abu Musab] Zarqawi.” Whatever one terms this supposed strategy, Zarqawi and his gang of thugs (not to mention the entire world) will see it for what it is: retreat.
Give Mr. Dean credit for consistent frankness. He has never supported the war, unlike some Democrats who are hoping the public simply forgets what they said in 2002. Unfortunately, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee appears to have caught the malady of spinelessness that inflicts many of his friends in Congress. Neither House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi nor the media’s favorite “hawk,” Rep. John Murtha, could follow their tough words with tough actions and vote to withdraw the troops when the motion came before the House a couple weeks ago. In fact, only three out of a cut-and-run chorus of dozens could find the courage to do so.
Clearly, Mr. Dean did what he always does and said what he really thought. That makes him a defeatist.