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The New McGovernites By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 14, 2006

George McGovern, the former Democratic senator and presidential candidate whose antiwar platform led to his landslide defeat since 1972, will meet with the 62-member House Congressional Progressive Caucus to discuss his proposal for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. McGovern told an audience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on November 9 that the Iraq and Vietnam wars were equally “foolish enterprises” and that the current threat of terrorism developed because the United States went into Iraq. Apparently, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were preemptive strikes, given that they were launched nearly two years before the march on Baghdad.

McGovern wants the new Democratic majority in Congress to force a U.S. withdrawal by June 2007. Such a precipitous “cut and run” policy has obviously given the aging activist a flashback to his July 14, 1972, speech accepting the Democratic nomination. In it, he called for an “immediate and complete withdrawal” from Vietnam, making that the central issue of the campaign. He then suffered a humiliating drubbing by a 61-38 percent margin, losing 49 states. As McGovern himself once put it, “I opened the doors of the Democratic Party, and 20 million people walked out.”


On one point, however, he is correct. There are similarities on the left-wing of the Democratic Party from Vietnam, through the Central American wars of the 1980s, to Iraq today. McGovern is not the only reminder of this disgraceful history. Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista dictator, was elected president of Nicaragua on November 5. In his victory speech, Ortega thanked his leftist “brothers” Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Fidel Castro in Cuba. Castro praised Ortega, whose armed movement was one of several Castro (with Soviet backing) had supported in the 1980s, saying his election “fills our people with joy, at the same time filling the terrorist and genocidal government of the United States with opprobrium.” For his part, Ortega talked of the Iraq War and how the new Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress should force America to “pull its troops out of that country.”


Ortega knows the power of Congress to help foreign thugs like himself by constraining American actions. Starting in 1982, Democratic Rep. Edward Boland sponsored measures adopted by Congress to prohibit the Reagan administration from providing military support “for the purpose of overthrowing the Government of Nicaragua,” then a Marxist junta led by Ortega. There were loopholes in the law, which the National Security Council exploited to continue aiding the anti-Communist Contra rebels. President Ronald Reagan called Ortega's regime “one of the world's principal refuges for international terrorists” and a “partner of Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Cuba.”


Congress tightened the restrictions in1984, but covert aid continued to the Contras. Under increasing pressure from the freedom fighters, Ortega agreed to allow elections in Nicaragua in 1990. The collapse of the Soviet Union had cut off his foreign support. The Sandinistas lost that election and several since. History never comes to an end, however, nor do struggles ever cease. Ortega has returned to power with 38 percent of the vote against a split opposition.

Ironically, Vietnam has also returned to the political agenda. It is joining the World Trade Organization. Congress will have to pass legislation to grant the Hanoi regime normal “most favored nation” trade status. Vietnam’s Communist rulers now want the benefits of capitalist investment and commerce that Ho Chi Minh expended three million lives in a savage war to extinguish.


South Vietnam could have become another Asian tiger economy, as did South Korea and Taiwan after having been defended from Communist invasion attempts. But Saigon fell in 1975 to North Vietnamese troops and tanks. In the decades since, the people of Vietnam have suffered under a brutal dictatorship, isolated much like North Korea from the progress of the outside world. The 2006 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal says “graft remains rampant...the human rights record remains poor.” The index ranks Vietnam at 142 out of its list of 157 countries, in company with such tyrannies as Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma, and North Korea. Its per capita GDP is a pitiful $470, making it a true socialist utopia of mass poverty.


A Democratic Congress played a major role in condemning Vietnam to this tragic fate. Much of the current public dissatisfaction with Iraq is due to the failures of post-invasion planning which allowed insurgents and hostile neighboring states to launch a sustained campaign of terrorism. In Vietnam, however, Congressional opposition consolidated after a series of American battlefield successes. With Communist forces pushed into the South Vietnamese hinterland following the failure of Hanoi's 1968 Tet Offensive, U.S.-led forces raided enemy sanctuaries in Cambodia in 1970. This set off a wave of antiwar activity, culminating in June 1971 with passage of an amendment by Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Mike Mansfield calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Indochina at the “earliest practical date.”


With the enemy beaten (if not defeated), American forces started to come home as South Vietnam stood up a million-man army. In 1972, Hanoi again invaded, hoping to take advantage of the absence of U.S. combat units. Saigon's forces held with the aid of American air power. But bringing American troops home and signing a peace agreement were not good enough for the antiwar mob. South Vietnam had to lose to validate the leftist cause.


In May 1973, Congress voted to cut-off all funds for military action in Indochina, including air support. Having deprived Saigon of U.S. firepower, Congress then cut aid to South Vietnam in 1974, resulting in shortages of fuel, spare parts and ammunition. A month after this Congressional action, the Hanoi Politburo decided to launch a new invasion in 1975. The Soviets increased their military aid to Hanoi, building a heavily armed force that the abandoned Saigon government could not stop. When President Gerald Ford asked Congress for an emergency grant of funds to rush ammunition to South Vietnam on April 10, 1975, he was turned down.


In return for its support, Moscow was able to deploy bombers and warships in Vietnamese bases originally built by the United States. By the same token, a sudden withdrawal of Coalition forces from Iraq would give terrorists and Iranian-backed militias new bases from which to operate against America.


The Democrats are committed to withdrawing troops from Iraq, but were cautious during the weeks running up to the midterm election about when this should happen. They know that American opinion is agitated by a failure to win, not by a desire to lose. In a  post-election Newsweek poll, 78 percent of respondents said they were somewhat or very concerned that the Democrats would be too hasty seeking a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Another 69 percent said they were concerned that the new Congress would keep the administration “from doing what is necessary to combat terrorism.”


Democratic leaders have bristled at the term “cut and run” and have talked instead of  “redeployment” by 2008, a date geared to the election cycle rather than to events in the Middle East. However, prominent Democrats have already tried to enact legislation to advance a “cut and run” agenda. On May 25, 2005, Reps. Lynn Woolsey, D-CA, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tried to get the resolution she had introduced at the start of the 109th Congress added to the 2006 Defense authorization bill. Her amendment was to “express the sense of Congress that the President should develop a plan for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, and submit this plan to the congressional defense committees.” It failed 128-300.  However, nearly two-thirds of the Democrats voted for it. Only five votes came from Republicans (three were Buchanan isolationists: John Duncan, Walter Jones, and Howard Coble; one was a libertarian, Ron Paul; and one was a liberal, Jim Leach, who lost his seat Nov. 7). 


Later in the year, the Democrats pulled back. In response to the call of Rep. John Murtha, D-PA, for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, decided to call his bluff. Hunter forced a November 18 vote on a resolution to immediately terminate the deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq. It failed 3-403, with even Woolsey and Murtha voting against it. 


On June 16, 2006, a resolution was voted on in the House which included the declarations: “it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq”; and “that the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq.” It passed 256-153. And while 42 Democrats supported the measure, nearly three-quarters of the party opposed this statement of positive goals.

The question now is whether the party's more responsible members, who place withdrawal within a larger context of regional stability, will be able to hold off the party's left-wingers, who favor an American defeat to discredit the war and deter any future military action. Will enough Democrats continue to work with the Republicans to prevent Congress from making the same tragic and disgraceful decisions that have crippled American defense and foreign policies in the past? The odds are long unless the American people, who still expect their leaders to win victories in foreign wars, can make their influence more clearly felt.

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William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.

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