Tuesday, September 09, 2003

For the Defense on Dean's Defense

I'm inclined to wonder, as do many Progressives, what happened to Andrew Sullivan. He is still a Progressive and I still agree with him on most subjects; but when it comes to national security it's as if some evil genius has transplanted some long-forgotten Paleo-Neo-Con's brain into him. He wrote of his opinion of Dean's chances a few weeks ago and was largely very complimentary about Dean's positions and achievements. However, when he turned to national defense, he started spewing such nonsense it sounded as if he had let Paul Wolfowitz write the last half of the article.

I would have ignored him, figuring Progressives know his views are very idiosyncratic on this topic, but then my wife read it and asked me about Sullivan's views. I realized that I had to respond to his charges, even though I find them facially farcical. Some of us remember when Sullivan made sense, and thus willingly give him the benefit of the doubt. Let there be no doubt, on this subject, Sullivan may be as bracingly acerbic and rhetorically proficient as ever, but his premises and arguments are a Potemkin village in which he lives unheeding of the fact it was constructed by Bush Administration officials solely to deceive. It is cardboard and poster paint and the first hard rain will carry it away, leaving Sullivan... well, all wet.

Sullivan writes:

"So where's the catch? In a word: national security. Dean has got himself where he needs to be in the election cycle largely because he strongly opposed the war against Saddam. Earlier this year, as partisan Democrats fumed at the Bush administration's success at building strong support from the war on terror, Dean gave the base what it wanted. He opposed the war forthrightly, while many scared Democrats in the Senate and Congress voted for it."

Notice the Sullivan conflates without distinctions "the war against Saddam", "the war on terror", "the war" which he says Dean opposed. They are not one and the same. Such conflation is typical of this Administration's rhetoric and outright lies.

"The War on Terror," though often carried out through questionable means, which Dean does criticize, is not something which Dean opposes. In fact, he feels the invasion and occupation of Afganistan was fully justified as an act of retaliatory self-defense for the crime of 9/11. What's more, he has been very critical of Bush's big talk and tiny budgets for Homeland defense. Dean will increase the resources available for Homeland defense and focus on prevention of terrorist acts by using a defense-in-depth strategy that utilizes security measures targeted to the threats abroad, on our borders and in our midst.

The "War on Saddam," as Sullivan so inflammatorily, and tellingly, labels the Iraq War, is not part of the War on Terror, nor even an accurate description of the Iraq War. One cannot make war on a person. We fought the nation of Iraq and are now engaged in fighting many of its people, not just Saddam. To ground one's justification for the Iraq War solely on the character and actions of Saddam Hussein, is misleading and irrelevant. Realistic calculations of international power and threat are the only proper basis for diplomacy and war. Claiming that Saddam's evil justifies all our actions is simple-minded, rhetorical nonsense. It is a dangerously childish, school-yard method of making policy decisions.

"The war" is the Iraq War, which Dean did not oppose in principle; rather, he questioned the means by which the decision for war was reached. Later, he came to the realization that the war would do active harm to our national interests because of this Administration's unrealistic aims and counterproductive methods. Dean opposed the Administration's timetable, strategy, and rationale for war with Iraq; the way this war was executed, not the idea of war itself.

Dean must have strongly suspected the Iraq War would alienate the very people most important to our intelligence efforts against terrorism. Far from opposing the War on Terror, Dean's opposition to the Iraq War is grounded in his concern that the vastly greater threat to our security from terrorism would grow as a result of the Iraq War. Demonstrably, the Iraq War has been disruptive to what Dean believes should be our primary goals of fighting terror and keeping Americans safe.

This Administration continues to claim that the Iraq War was, and is, part of the effort to combat terrorism. This despite having no evidence at all that the Ba'ath regime ever supported Al Qaida or any other terrorist group responsible for attacks on American interests. No evidence. Period. Rhetoric and carefully decontextualized claims they have aplenty. Unless real evidence existed at the time of our decision to invade, all post hoc attempts to cobble together a case for invasion are simply rank political justification, not the foundation for legitimate policy decisions. The Administration has manifestly failed to produce evidence of any links to terror prior to the war. Iraq is now hotbed of terrorism and that condition is manifesty the result of the Iraqi invasion.

The recent bombing of the UN headquarters and the car bombing in Najaf demonstrate clearly that the invasion and occupation of Iraq, far from quelling terrorism, has given terrorist groups, including Al Qaida, a whole new set of targets and opportunities for expansion. The occupation presents to them a power vacuum within Iraq in which terrorists may operate freely against American citizens, innocent Iraqis, and the very people trying to rebuild Iraq.

Americans are beginning to see in events on the ground the realization of predictions made by those who opposed the Administration's plans. Fundamentally, the debate over Iraq is not an argument about whether to defend America vigorously, but how to go about it wisely. Opposing this Administration's plans for war on Iraq, or criticizing their execution of it, does not make Dean "soft on security." On the contrary, how can a patriot fail to speak out, believing that this Administration is failing to make realistic policy which protects and defends our nation?

Dean believes that Bush's policies vis à vis Iraq and the War on Terror are weakening America. He condemns this Administration because he thinks they are making egregious mistakes that are harming America. As the costly stupidity of the Iraq War plays itself out to its inevitable and tragic end, the American people are beginning to realize that America cannot control the world; our powers are too poor and limited, no matter how vast comparitively. That is not defeatism; it is realism.

There will always be those who claim victory is just around the corner. Just a few more troops, just a few more billion (87, to be precise), just stay the course and show resolve and we will prevail. People who say such things are fundamentally ignorant of strategic realities. People much like those around Bush said the same things about Vietnam; failing utterly to understand the extraordinary resolve of occupied peoples. If Iraqis perceived America as a disinterested power they might accept our military occupation for their own long term good. But they understand all to well the nature of Bush's occupation; it's motives have much more to do with privatization of oil production and public utilities, enriching political allies, and manipulating public sentiment at home than with the welfare and future happiness of the Iraqi people.

Dean is doing his level best to genuinely end the unilateral nature of the occupation and thereby ease the Iraqis fears about our unchecked power over their nation. A President Dean will create a stronger and wiser America, which stands shoulder to shoulder with it's allies to improve the world. President Bush stands for a weak and petulant America which over-reaches, bullies it's allies, and then begs for the world to extract us from our own folly. We can defend ourselves and our allies from aggression. We can help keep the world a civilized place in alliance with those of good will. But Bush's policy of go-it-alone cowboy diplomacy is dangerous grandiosity that that we must not tolerate for the sake of our nation's security.

In my own estimation, and I do not know if Dean feels the same, the blood of each of our man and woman who has died in Iraq stains forever the hands of the Bush Administration. Those soldiers have encountered every soldiers worst fear: to die without their sacrifice having made America any safer. Americans have died in wars, their lives given that their families, friends and fellow citizens might live in freedom and without fear. It is a mockery and crime, however, to ask a soldier to die for a lie, or for cause which imperils thier fellow citizens whom they swore an oath to protect. This Administration's callous disregard for the sincerity of that oath is causing growing despair in those who serve America with their full measure of devotion.

The first reason for Dean's opposition to decision to go to war is that it was not a means of furthering the struggle with terror, it was, and is, a distraction that will exacerbate terrorism, a folly that weakens us when we need all our strength to defeat a real enemy. One little phrase routs all of the Bush Administration's self-justifications, "Where is Osama bin Laden?"

Sullivan continues:

He has been relentless on the alleged missing WMDs issue.

This is all the space that Sullivan devotes to this critical issue. It's as if he wants it to go away but can't quite resist mentioning it.

I suppose there really is nothing more Sullivan can say about this issue, considering that the weight of the evidence is all on Dean's side. Impugning Dean's motives and leaving substance aside is Sullivan's only possible rhetorical strategy, since there is no substance to the opposing side. Dean has indeed been relentless about this issue, not out of partisan envy or personal animosity, as Sullivan later suggests, but because this is a critical issue of Constitutional limits and public morality.

The certain existence of WMDs and the imminent danger they posed to America security was THE reason given by the Administration as a causus belli against Iraq. Even so, they had to propose a new standard for pre-emptive self-defense in the absence of any immediate threat of attack by Iraq on America. Such a precedent in the customary law of nations is unacceptably destabilizing to the established international order, of which America is the primary beneficiary.

It is now apparent that the "evidence" which the Bush Administration, and Bush himself, used to sell their aggressive mission was exaggerated, fabricated, or presented out of context. This issue is about the "why" of the Iraq War, not the results. When confronted with the issue of WMD Administration apologists invariably change the subject and discuss the goals of the war, instead of how the decision for war was reached. In a democracy, the means by which decisions are taken are are as important as the goals of those decisions.

During times of danger it is natural for people to turn to a leader for security and resolve. Following 9/11 people turned to their President for leadership and got deception instead. In their pain and anger they were more than willing to lash out at whatever target the President presented. Bush and his Administration's national security team, dominated by ideologues who had long been intent on war with Iraq, exploited the opportunity to fabricate a case to achieve their aims.

After months of searching, no WMDs have yet have been found. The Administration has spun and covered-up, and even outright lied to try to make this basic fact go away. They have resorted to worst sort of thuggery and intimidation to silence critics and prevent leaks and whistleblowers. The wife of Ambassador Wilson, the debunker of the Niger letter, was outed as a CIA agent by Administration officials, a criminal act and a blow to American intelligence that could cost lives.

But lies cannot change the facts; were there any WMD in Iraq, they did not threaten the United States by any reasonable usage of the word "threaten". The Administration may have had a moral certainty that there were WMD weapons in Iraq. In fact, I'm quite willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they did believe it, but they lacked any credible proof. Instead of leveling with America and basing their recommendation for war on what facts they had. they stretched the facts to support their baseless assertions of an grave and growing threat from Iraq instead.

In the eyes of many, the Administration's behavior in this regard presents a grave Constitutional issue, an issue which the GOP would assuredly not try to minimize were the President not one of their own.

Congress must authorize war. Is it legitimate that they do so while laboring under deliberate misimpressions created by the President? Polk was at least chastised for the deceptions he used to bring us to war with Mexico. To tolerate unchallenged such behavior from the President undermines the proper role of Congress to check the power of the President's prerogatives to act unilaterally as the Commander in Chief. Toleration of the President's deception, indeed, active opposition to investigation of that deception by the GOP Congress demostrates a disturbing alliegance to party above the Constitution. The lies the President told may be an impeachable subversion of the Constitutional design, and is most certainly unwise. Our founders knew well the tyranny of an executive who could unilaterally declare war; they called him King George. Perhaps we should, too.

Rulers decide unilaterally matters of war and peace, casting aside the lives of their subjects in war whenever and wherever they see fit. American Presidents are not rulers; they are servants, and they must be honest about the reasons for war and obtain the consent for it from our elected representatives, free from deceit. To claim otherwise, even in times of grave peril, demonstrates contempt for our Constitutional system and a disdain for the wisdom of the democratic design our Founders bequeathed us. The wise controls and checks upon our leaders are meant to prevent the arbitrary use of power. The design is the heart of limited government, which was at one time a core principle of Conservative political philosophy. Apparently, no longer.

Dean's second reason for opposing the war is that the manner in which it was entered into was possibly subversive of the Constitutional order and contrary to the principles of democratic and limited government in which he believes. Bush arrogated the powers of a ruler to himself in deciding to attack Iraq under false pretenses.

Sullivan writes:

"When Baghdad was liberated, and Saddam removed from power, Dean came up with his most memorable line yet: "I suppose it's a good thing."

"I suppose." How could anyone be that ambivalent about Saddam's removal? Even those who opposed the war acknowledge for the most part that Saddam was an evil monster. But for Dean, that huge humanitarian advance was balanced by dismay at a success for an administration he loathed. Of course, that naked partisanship is why he appeals to the Democratic Party base."

"I suppose" is evidence of a thinking man in the process of forming an opinion, not naked partisanship. Some people don't recognize ambivalence for what it is, a sign of independent thought. How could they recognize equivocation as a sign of someone considering the evidence, since they themselves simply adopt their opinions whole and substitute the arguments of others for independent thought? Dean has reservations about the ultimate effect of the Iraq War on American security interests. Since, in general terms, the only alternative to removing the Ba'ath regime is to leave it in place, the natural response to wonder if deposing the Ba'athists will ultimately result in benefits for America's security, or indeed, even for the security of Iraqis.

Dean has said that the time to take action against the Ba'athists was following the first Gulf War when we had evidence of Saddam currently ordering his citizens killed. We not only failed to act, but tacitly abetted the slaughter by allowing him to provide air cover to his troops.

Dean does not oppose the use of American troops to stop an active human rights atrocity, but there is little wisdom to using our troops to punish crimes a decade or more old. That does not save any lives, it only costs the lives of American troops. Sullivan's moral outrage is heartfelt, I'm sure, but such emotional diatribes are not the proper basis for the military policy of the greatest, most powerful, military force on Earth.

Dean's criticisms are not a matter of "naked partisanship" or loathing or envy, they are concern for the fate and security of our nation. If there is anything one can be sure of, it's that anyone who can see only unseemly motives in the actions of others, is likely not well acquainted with any other kind.

Dean is also very concerned with the way the costs of war were characterized by the Administration. Instead of preparing people for the sacrifices and costs of war and occupation, the Administration soft-pedaled the difficulty and expense of the task. Irresponsibly, they claimed that the war would be swift and easy (which was largely true, because they got lucky that most of the Imperial Guards melted away into the populace instead of defending Baghdad) and the occupation would be short, with a simple exit strategy. The latter assertion has proven to be either deliberate deception or unspeakably Pollyanna naiveté in the Administration's national security team.

Now we are deeply engaged in the affairs of a fractured nation which, for the sake of stability in the Middle East, we dare not abandon. We face the prospect of years of extremely costly occupation and reconstruction while bleeding out American lives at increasing pace. Not only is the cost likely to be ruinous, but the goals of fighting terror and promoting a lasting peace in the Middle East are likely to be compromised by the distractions of the task. The vacuum of effective control the Administration's half-measure, on-the-cheap, occupation has created fosters Islamic radicalism, promotes intercene violence, and results in pockets of de facto lawlessness, all of which breed terror.

There is a sick irony in the fact that our security goals will be harmed in the name of our security if we continue to allow Bush to call the shots. The Administration's lack of true commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan models the sort of half-measures and neglect one can expect in Iraq if Bush is given another term. Rather than committing the needed resources, Bush cuts deals with warlords and starves the central government of resources needed to exercise even basic control of the nation. Bush's already huge deficits, combined with his public commitment to cut taxes every year he is in office, are simply incompatible with the fiscal burdens of rebuilding two countries. If Bush thinks he can get away with another war, or, God forbid, one is actually thrust upon us by a true security threat, such as that growing in North Korea, the burden will grow yet more ruinous to our economy and credit.

For these reasons, and more which I have not mentioned, or which Dean sees but I cannot, any thinking person might ponder the possibility that the destruction of the noxious, yet stable, Ba'ath regime is a mixed blessing and say, "I suppose it's a good thing." His utterance was not politic, considering the nature and intellectual depth of his political opponents, but it was honest and highly revelatory of a man with an independent and critical intellect.

Sullivan says some things about healthcare reform and character which, though begging for refutation, I will skip over and address in a separate article. I would prefer to focus on foreign policy here. Sullivan continues:

"And in an election in which terrorism and national security will be central issues, a candidate who would seem to undermine America's credibility in the reconstruction of Iraq would also have a huge amount of persuasion to do. For even if you disagreed with the war, abandoning Iraq now would be a catastrophe from which American foreign policy would barely recover. Up against that, a message of tax hikes and gay equality, however justified on the merits, would scarcely be credible."

Dean does not advocate the abandonment of Iraq. Either a complete mischaracterization of Dean's position is the only way Sullivan can find to criticize Dean, or Sullivan is truly ignorant of Dean's public statements on this point; in which case he has no business writing about Dean at all.

Dean proposes that we cease this Administration's unseemly obsession with operational control of the reconstruction (which is viewed internationally, and by Americans who bother to think about it or who have glanced at Halliburton's market cap since the Iraq War began, as a means of steering reconstruction funds into the pockets of favored American corporations) and security prevents sufficient international aid and assistance from being offered to the effort. Dean would obtain a new UN resolution creating a mandate for Iraq. This would give the effort international legitimacy and begin to heal the damage Bush did to our relations with our perennial allies in Europe and elsewhere in his rush to war on Iraq.

Dean's foreign policy views and priorities are the most thoughtful and realistic positions on defense in the Presidential field, most especially superior to the fever dreams and deceptions of Bush.

When he's President, Dean will be a great Commander in Chief. He will keep our military strong, treat our soldiers with the dignity and respect they deserve, and give them the resources they need to do thier work. Bush has overextended our military, demoralized and humiliated the troops repeatedly, and starved our fighting forces of needed resources. As President, Dean will restore our perennial alliances and utilize the cultural and moral power of the United States through diplomacy, treaties, and commercial relations to strengthen America's hand in world affairs without the need to resort to demonstrative wars. Bush has wrecked our alliances, isolated America, weakened us diplomatically; a power that must use force and bribes to get its way actually has no power at all. As President, Dean will ease the crushing burden on our military readiness that Iraq has become by sharing it with the rest of the world. Bush, if re-elected, will lead us deeper into the quagmire.

Howard Dean's military, strategic defense, diplomatic, and national security policies reflect the world class thinking which produced them. His common sense, wisdom and intelligence shine through his every pronouncement. Howard Dean's principles are shaped by the American ideals of temperance and justice in international relations, and the overriding goal of promoting peace and democracy worldwide by example, not by blunt imposition of our will. Howard Dean is a man of peace, a husband, father, and healer, who is determined to protect his nation and its democratic soul. His primary foreign policy focus is to bring American power fully to bear upon the scourge of international terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and keeping the peace so that our people may live and thrive.

Dean has consistently been underestimated by America's so-called intellgensia. People like Sullivan who have been duped, blinded, and confused by the spectacularly successful shuck and jive of this Administration. Their policies are costly failures. Our military is groaning at the seams and we are hemorrhaging money, not to mention American blood, in Iraq. Our standing in the esteem of the world is gravely damaged by the Pollyanna, lying bullies, who have captured our security policy apparatus. Terrorism continues to threaten the security of our people at home and abroad, and this Administration will take only measures that capture headlines, not those quieter, more expensive measures that prevent terror. In their largely ineffectual bumbling, this Administration has stepped all over the civil rights of American citizens and severely mistreated the immigrants and visitors to our nation who are our ambassadors to the world. Combined with their ruinous economic policies, deceptive and destructive environmental backpedaling, anti-labor, anti-worker, anti-minority, anti-woman, anti-democratic policies, dirty tricks, power plays, and abuse of the our nation's values and people, the sum is an ethically bankrupted and monstrously corrupt GOP. People have begun to realize that the leaders of the GOP across the nation have overreached our tolerance for the abuse of power, done their best to dig out our Constitutional foundations of limited government, and damaged the American people's interests in favor of their own too many times. A wave of people sickened to their souls by the perfidy of the Taliban-like zealots who have captured the leadership of the GOP, and this Administration in particular, are going to sweep Dean into office with a resounding majority for the Democrats. No matter how much filthy money Bush raises, no matter how often he puts on the knee pads for special interests, no matter the lies and deceptions he attempts, none of it can the change the minds of awakened voters.

Dean will be our next President, and not a moment too soon.


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