September 1, 2010
Remembering America's Iraq War 'Patriotic Opposition'By Paul Kengor
In his speech to the nation Tuesday night, President Obama offered a tepid acknowledgment to George W. Bush for his patriotism and love of country through the hellacious ordeal of the Iraq war -- made hellacious by the bilious criticisms leveled by unrelenting, vicious liberal Democrats. It was the weakest, emptiest form of appreciation, as Obama included Bush among two types of "patriots" during the Iraq debate, grouping him with the "patriots who opposed" the war.
Well, given the president's tribute, I thought I'd pause to offer a summary of the loyal opposition. Herewith is an accounting of some of the statements made by these "patriots." Of course, this isn't a comprehensive list, as such requires a book rather than an article. (Pardon the shameless plug, but I do that in my book, Dupes.) Here we go:
I'll begin with Barack Obama himself, who, on Tuesday, failed to reiterate the "clear and unequivocal opposition" to the troop surge he had expressed directly to President Bush in a 2007 meeting -- i.e., the surge that even the New York Times and Washington Post conceded had turned around the conflict and made it winnable.
Particularly bothersome was Obama's August 2007 assessment of America's fighting men and women: "We've got to get the job done there [Iraq]. And that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians."
Obama's assessment reflected a genre mastered by Democrats during the Iraq campaign: namely, the brutal disparagement of our troops. Here, few surpassed the burst of patriotic fervor displayed by Obama's senate colleague from Illinois, Dick Durbin.
Durbin compared the thankless efforts of U.S. interrogators to the work of "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings." This was not a flip comment by a Durbin caught on tape after a few drinks. He said this on the Senate floor, reading from a text, on June 14, 2005, amid the worst stretch of killings of American soldiers by terrorists inside Iraq.
Obviously, the senator knows nothing about Nazis, Soviets, or Pol Pot. To compare the nonlethal interrogation of Islamist POWs to these skull-laden killing fields is so grossly unfair that Durbin should have immediately apologized not only to U.S. troops, but to victims of the Nazis, the Soviets, and Pol Pot.
Was this the patriotic opposition President Obama had in mind?
Taking a page from Durbin's playbook, Congressman John Murtha accused Marines of killing "innocent" Iraqi civilians "in cold blood." The Pennsylvania Democrat, himself a veteran, said that Marines from the 3rd Battalion were "cold-blooded killers" who "murdered innocent civilians." So slanderous were Murtha's comments that the acquitted Marines filed a lawsuit.
Did Murtha pay a political price for these remarks? No. Even after that lawsuit, and after Murtha denounced his own constituents as "racists" and "rednecks," the congressman cruised to easy reelection.
And then there was another veteran from the Democratic side: In December 2005, on CBS's "Face the Nation," the junior senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, insisted to Bob Schieffer, "And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children, you know, women."
In the War on Terror, John Kerry had reversed the terms: Who was guilty of terrorism? It was American troops; the terrorists were on our side.
Or, consider Kerry's degrading October 2006 statement, where he cracked this joke to a group of California college students: "We're here to talk about education. But I want to say something before that. ... You know, education, if you make the most of it and you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
One might imagine such arrogance from some Ivy League elitist, educated at Columbia, having never held a gun or shaken a Marine's hand. Bear in mind, however, that this insult came from a Vietnam vet.
Speaking of Vietnam: That, too, was a staple of liberal criticism, whether the Iraq war was going well or poorly. That's no surprise, as liberals have denounced every military intervention by a Republican president, beginning with Reagan and Grenada in October 1983, as "another Vietnam." Here, the leader of the liberal symphony was the senior senator from Massachusetts, the media's late, great "Lion," Ted Kennedy.
On May 10, 2004, Kennedy went to the Senate floor and declared, "On March 19, 2004, President Bush asked: 'Who would prefer that Saddam's torture chambers still be open?' Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management -- U.S. management."
It was an utterly absurd, incredibly irresponsible analogy, with no semblance of reality, as any member of Congress with the most rudimentary knowledge of Saddam's "Republic of Fear" would know. The worst case of unauthorized abuse by U.S. personnel did not compare to the daily terror employed by Saddam against Iraqi women, children, Shiites, Marsh Arabs, Army deserters, dissidents, and on and on. Yet that was Ted Kennedy's evaluation.
It's hard to hold back on Kennedy in this article. He was a walking, talking Nickelodeon of breathtaking statements on Iraq.
Perhaps most incredible, in 2007, when the mission in Iraq had survived and reversed the treacherous 2005-6 period, Kennedy clung tight to the ghost of Vietnam. "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam," the Massachusetts senator declared.
As one can see in Kennedy's analysis, a third genre of liberal criticism was a dripping hatred -- a bubbling, boiling rage -- at the person of George Bush.
Recall the wartime leadership of Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), who literally thrilled al-Qaeda when he called the president of the United States a "liar," a "loser," and declared that "this war is lost."
Surely Reid paid a political price? Not at all. His reward: Senate Majority Leader.
Besting Reid is Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA). In October 2007, Stark, in addition to parroting Reid by calling the president a liar, also ripped America's troops for "blow[ing] up innocent people" and accused George W. Bush of desiring to send more American boys "to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."
For the record, Stark made similar accusations against President Reagan regarding Grenada. Has Stark paid a political price for any of this? Nope: California's voters have reelected him every two years for decades.
That's some patriotic opposition, eh?
The American Left got what it wanted from Iraq: the vicious destruction of George W. Bush, followed in turn by self-coronation as America's new "progressive" leadership, securing the hallowed halls of Congress and even the Oval Office.
I'm not angry at the Left. The Left did what it always does.
My disappointment is with the rest of America, from voters in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, who repeatedly reelect the likes of Stark, Kennedy, Kerry, and Durbin to, especially, the duped "moderates"/"independents" who voted the way they did on November 4, 2008. I'm also disappointed in Republicans who bother to read the New York Times and grant it the legitimacy of a nonpartisan publication of serious, impartial journalism that merits their consideration on matters like George Bush and Iraq.
In the end, it's the American voter who's responsible for this. If President Obama's speech frustrated you, don't blame him. He didn't elect himself.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the new Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.