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Pre-emptive Surrender By: Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 22, 2007


Henryk Broder, one of Germany’s few contrarian journalists, recently wrote a book decrying the weakness of the free West in the face of Islamic fanaticism. Tongue firmly in cheek, he called it: Hurra, Wir Kapitulieren, (Hurray! We're Capitulating). Broder was primarily addressing Europe’s political class. But if the machinations of the Democratic Congress last week are any indication, the tendency toward gleeful submission before enemy forces cannot be dismissed as an exclusively Continental phenomenon.

Exhibit A in this tendency was the passage on Friday of the “non-binding” House resolution condemning President Bush’s strategy of boosting troop levels in Baghdad. If Democrats had the courage of their antiwar convictions, they would have taken a page from their predecessors in 1973 and exercised the power of the purse to deny any further funding for the war effort. But this would require principle, however misguided, and Democrats are primarily interested in political posturing.

The result? Even as American troops were marching into battle, House Democrats, abetted by 17 Republican defectors, were prejudging their mission a failure. How to reconcile last week’s vote with the fact that just weeks ago the Democrat-led Senate unanimously approved Army Gen. David Petraeus to command that same mission is anyone’s guess. Time may yet prove the House skeptics right about the wisdom of the surge. But it won’t alter the fact that at a dire time for the country they have acquitted themselves abominably.

And they were just getting started. As a sequel to last week’s resolution, House Democrats are working on what the Politico.com website described as a “slow-bleed strategy.” Cynicism on a spectacular scale, it works like this: Into a forthcoming bill on supplemental spending for the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Democratic leadership intends to insert prohibitive restrictions that will make it all but impossible to deploy additional troops into the military theater.

Leading this obstructionist onslaught is antiwar agitator Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, the current chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing appropriations for defense. Having resoundingly lost his bid to become House majority leader in November, Murtha seems determined to save face by engineering American defeat in Iraq. He sounded positively giddy last Thursday as he explained the logic of the slow-bleed plan to antiwar website MoveCongress.org: “They [the troops] won't be able to continue. They won't be able to do the deployment. They won't have the equipment, they don't have the training and they won't be able to do the work. There's no question in my mind ... we're going to stop this surge.” Translation: Hurray! We're Capitulating!

Not content with sabotaging the Iraq war, Democrats are also working to undercut any leverage the United States may have in holding Iran to account for its catastrophic meddling in Iraq and its rogue nuclear program. Toward this end Murtha is reportedly trying to introduce a new measure into upcoming appropriations legislation that would prohibit any military action against Iran without specific congressional approval. Democrats’ views of the “War on Terror” being what they are, it’s hard not to see this as anything but an anti-war mandate. Murtha’s Congressional confrere, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has already said that she would propose the measure as a separate bill if it is not included in the appropriations bill.

If successful, Murtha and Pelosi’s plan would be a legislative coup. Though only Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war,  the president can unilaterally send troops into battle. He can do so, moreover, absent a formal declaration of war from Congress. Murtha’s measure would strip the president of his war-making powers, a prospect that should unnerve anyone who doubts the ability of poll-worshipping legislators, let alone the Democratic majority in Congress, to provide steadfast wartime leadership. 

Equally disturbing is the message that Murtha’s measure would broadcast to America’s enemies. If a central pillar of the “Bush Doctrine” was preemptive war, the new Democratic Doctrine seems premised on its inverse: preemptive surrender. Small wonder that prior to the November election Democrats restricted their foreign policy pronouncements to platitudes that they “support the troops.” Their effective approach  -- call it “America, First to Yield” -- has limited appeal as an electoral cri de coeur.

Ironically, the Democrats’ declared refusal to countenance hard power against Iran came in the same week as a leaked policy document from the European Union, hardly a bastion of foreign policy hawks, underscored the futility of diplomatic measures. Written under the auspices of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the paper concludes that “the problems with Iran will not be resolved through economic sanctions alone” and acknowledges that “[a]ttempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have so far not succeeded.” Considering that the EU has long been the staunchest proponent of continued diplomacy with Iran, last week’s paper should induce skepticism among those who counsel engagement-at-all-costs.

On one point, however, the Democrats and their EU counterparts are in agreement: there can be no military solution to the growing problem of Iranian belligerence. Indeed, both seem to see the United States as the real menace in the Middle East. The EU’s policy paper makes a point of highlighting what it calls the “more aggressive US approach to Iranian interference in Iraq.” Meanwhile Democrats and their media amen corner have been working tirelessly to dismiss the legitimacy of the Bush administration’s concerns about Iran and to cast the United States as the true aggressor. The New York Times editorial board recently accused the Bush administration of “bulling Iran.” Presidential aspirant John Edwards has upbraided the US for “antagonizing” the mullahs. Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, emerged as the spiritual leader of this antiwar congregation last week when he denounced America as a “warmonger.”

As historical exegesis, this is precisely backward. The fact may come as news to the Democratic leadership and the party‘s antiwar base, but Iran’s war against the United States is nearly thirty years old. It began when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. embassy in 1979, shouting “Death to America!” as they took 53 Americans hostage for 444 days. It was through the faithful rendition of that same slogan that Ayatollah Khomeini ascended to power and pronounced death on the “Great Satan.” It was Iran, too, that birthed and nurtured Hezbollah, the terrorist group that killed 240 Marines in Lebanon in 1983 and whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, declared in 2003: “Death to America was, is, and will stay our slogan.” It is Iran that has repeatedly vowed to annihilate America’s ally, Israel, most recently when the country’s Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for the Jewish state to be “wiped off the map.” And only a fool or a fanatical partisan -- today’s Democratic Party is depressingly hospitable to both -- would deny that the Islamic Republic today plays a role in killing American troops in Iraq.

Pedants can wrangle over whether this role is limited to supplying rocket-propelled grenades, roadside bombs and sniper rifles to Shiite and Sunni terrorists or also extends to training Shiite militias. To those soldiers who have born the brunt of insurgent attacks, including the 170 troops that the American authorities estimate have fallen to Iranian-made explosive devices, it is doubtful that it makes a difference.

Amid this sad state of debate about Iran one can’t help but recall the words of the venerable conservative journalist Clare Booth Luce. Marking President Carter’s fecklessness in the dark days of the Iranian hostage crisis, Luce quipped that  “the United States will end up apologizing to Iran for its having declared war on us.” Luce’s cynicism proved prophetic when former Secretary of State Madeline Albright tendered just such an apology in 2000. Is another one on the way? Current trends do nothing to dispel that suspicion.

What is urgently needed instead is a new foreign policy realism. Not the Beltway “realism” of the Iraq Study Group, which holds, with an aggressive contempt for logic, that stability in the Middle East demands placating the region’s most destabilizing actors in Iran and Syria. Rather, it the kind of realism that gives American policy in Iraq a deserved opportunity to succeed, and which does not attempt to blunt American negotiations with Iran by swiping a pivotal arrow -- the credible threat of military force -- from the diplomatic quiver. Asking Congress to abandon their current course of capitulation and show a measure of political courage is, alas, asking too much.

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Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine. His email is jlaksin -at- gmail.com


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