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Did Critics of the War Go Too Far? By: David Horowitz and Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 03, 2008

[Editors' note: Below is an exchange between Jordan Smith, a Huffington Post contributor, and the authors of Party of Defeat].

Party to Deceit

By Jordan Michael Smith

Occasionally a book will feature as one of its blurbs a favorable comment from a senator, congressman or governor. Such a blurb is meant to signal the seriousness of the book and the importance of its author.

But it is exceptionally rare for a book's sleeve to feature endorsements from 18 Members of Congress, as David Horowitz and Ben Johnson's Party of Defeat does. Lest anyone wonder why the book merits unique support from legislators, it's subtitle-How Democrats and Radicals Undermined America's War on Terror Before and After 9-11-provides the answer: Horowitz and Johnson are partisan attack dogs, aiming to chew one of America's two major political parties to death. Party of Defeat functions as a Republican primer, doing polemic work for the Party that it cannot do for itself.

Party of Defeat argues that the Democrats have launched "unprecedented attacks on an American president and a war in progress." The Party of Roosevelt has gone beyond the bounds of reasonable dissent to actually work for America's defeat against its radical Islamist enemies. They have done so because the radical Left has taken over the Democratic Party, pledging allegiance not to the American flag, but to a worldwide radical cause.

In Horowitz and Johnson's telling, critics of the war have failed to reckon with its true causes: Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with international law requiring him to completely disarm. "[T]he one indisputable fact about the origins of the war was that the trigger of America's decision and the legal basis for the action was UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and Saddam's defiance of its ultimatum. In other words, the White House's rationale for the war was precisely to "uphold international law" - specifically, the seventeen UN resolutions that Saddam Hussein had violated, and that were designed to enforce the Gulf War true." By confusing the Bush administration's public case for the war with the rationale for the war, antiwar critics have evaded facing the real causes of the war. Selling any political program to millions inevitably involves over-simplification and symbolism in place of complex arguments and detailed historic analyses, they write.

Less than three months after the war began, Party of Defeat says, the Democrats launched an unconscionable attack against their own country by turning against the cause and declaring President Bush a criminal. They did so because Vermont Governor Howard Dean's success in the 2003 presidential primaries. The antiwar Dean's success blindsided presidential hopefuls John Kerry and John Edwards, who jettisoned their support for the troops by repudiating the war and the President, leaving the Republicans alone to protect America from the terrorists. "Between the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, which the Democrats supported, and their attacks on the legitimacy of the war, which began in June, three months later, no event transpired on the battlefield and no change took place in the administration's war policy that would explain their defection," the book says.

Despite its crisp pace and readability, Party of Defeat is filled with selective readings of history, distortions, half-truths, hyperbole and dishonest arguments. Beginning with its thesis. Horowitz and Johnson would have us believe that the Democrats' turn against President Bush and the Iraq War is novel. They use the word "unprecedented" at least a dozen times. "In every previous international conflict, America soldiers went to war backed by a unified political leadership. Even if some elected officials had opposed the war decision, once the troops were in the battle zone, the leaders of both parties supported them. In all previous wars, America's troops could go into battle secure in the knowledge that their country was behind them. But in the war to remove an oppressive tyrant who had committed two armed aggressions and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own citizens, America's soldiers would have no such support," they write.

Such a claim is only possible because Party of Defeat contains no actual history of previous American wars. Horowitz and Johnson are either unaware of the political environment during wars before Vietnam, or they are simply depending on their readers being ignorant of it. For, in fact, the Democrats follow in a long history of oppositional-party dissenting from wars. The author's claims about the unparalleled level of "assaults" on President Bush would surely come as news to, say, Harry Truman, when he launched the Korean War.

It is impossible to fully summarize here, but the GOP's response to Truman's dispatch of US following North Korea's shocking invasion of South Korea in June of 1950 was far worse than anything Bush endured. As historian Melvyn Leffler put it in his 1993 Bancroft Prize-winning book Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War, "Republican partisans were quick to blame the impending debacle in Korea on the Democrats' naiveté and duplicity at Yalta and Potsdam and on their timidity and gullibility in China.Followers of Senators Josepha McCarthy and Robert Taft were willing to go further, saying that developments in Korea confirmed the treasonous actions of State Department officials and that [Secretary of State Dean] Acheson had to resign."

Taft made a speech on the Senate floor on June 28, just after Truman pledged American support to Korea. The man they called "Mr. Republican" said that the fall of China and the succeeding troubles in the Far East were all the fault of the administration, "of the sympathetic acceptance of Communism." The Democrats had "invited the attack." Taft called it "an unnecessary war," an "utterly useless war," a war "begun by President Truman without the slightest authority from Congress or the people." Former Republican President Herbert Hoover made a speech: "To commit the sparse ground forces of the non-communist nations into a land war against this communist land mass would be a war without victory, a war without a successful political terminal . . . that would be the graveyard of millions of American boys" and the exhaustion of the United States. He called for an immediate evacuation of Korea.

After Truman fired General Macarthur for insubordination, the Republicans called again for Acheson's resignation and for hearings on the war. The House GOP leader, Joseph Martin told a reporter that "the questions of impeachments were discussed" among senior Party leaders. As Eric Goldman points out in his book The Crucial Decade-And After: America, 1945-1960, Martin "emphasized the 's' on the word impeachment in a way that left no doubt he meant Secretary of State Acheson as well as President Truman." Hoover wired Macarthur to "fly home as quickly as possible before Truman and Marshall and their propagandists can smear you." The Republicans attempted to recruit MacArthur for President after he spoke of the "insidious forces working from within." . At the conclusion of the Macarthur hearings, eight of nine Republicans on the Senate Committee signed a policy statement talking darkly about "a pro-Communist State Department group," concerning which "the truth has not yet been revealed..". They called "Truman's War" the "most desolate failure in the history of our foreign policy."

Unlike the current-day Democrats, the Republicans launched this broadside in the middle of a just, defensive war, against a sober, wise president. Of course, Horowitz and Johnson don’t see Iraq and President Bush this way. They believe in the justice of the current war, and complain that “Iraq’s violations of the UN resolutions and the Gulf War truce are not addressed in any Democratic leader's arguments against the war. Nor are they addresses in the articles and books written by the liberal and radical opponents of the war.” The authors believe that the “Democrats’ political spin-and the Bush administration’s determined failure to counter it--has persuaded Democratic voters, accounting for half the American electorate, that the White House violated international law, when in fact it went to war to enforce international law.”

Horowitz and Johnson are correct: most critics of the war have ignored the argument that the Bush administration went to war to enforce international law. But critics have done so because the proposition is absurd- only the most gullible partisans could believe that the Bush administration cared at all about international law, let alone would risk political capital to enforce it. This is the administration that opposed the Kyoto Protocol, flouts the Geneva Conventions, snubbed the International Criminal Court, ignores the World Court rulings on the Death Penalty, dumped the Mine Ban Treaty--and sent UN-hating John Bolton to the world body as its ambassador. And people are supposed to take seriously the notion that the administration went to war to enforce United Nations rulings? Saddam Hussein was in violation of UN resolutions, no doubt-but so was Israel. Nearly 150 resolutions, in fact. The authors would respond, presumably, that the UN is relentlessly biased toward Israel and hence these resolutions shouldn't be heeded. Certainly that's the position of the Bush administration. But that's just the point-anyone who feels this way about the UN cannot expect to be taken seriously when they turn around and argue for launching a bloody war on its behalf. Just in August, Horowitz declared the UN to be comprised of "pro-Islamist Arab dictatorships and their allies." How can he and Johnson argue for a war on its behalf? Are pro-Islamist Arab dictatorships worth dying for?

Of course not. And the Bush administration doesn't think so either. America may end up enforcing international law in going to war, as in Korea or the first Gulf War, but it certainly does not go to war for that reason. But in their quest to exonerate the administration for its poorly-waged, unnecessary war, Horowitz and Johnson will believe just about anything. It is tempting, when writing about their wretched book, to accuse the authors of those very slurs they hurl at their opponents: anti-American, traitorous, hateful and reckless. But though these insults may be true, in the end one is just overcome by pity for them. They are dupes, buying into a war, a Party, and a President all based on illusions and faulty premises, and all so destructive.

Jordan Michael Smith is Press Officer at the Project on National Security Reform. His views are not necessarily representative of PNSR's. He was formerly an editorial intern at the American Prospect, and his articles have appeared in Alternet, Huffington Post, Campus Progress and the Columbia Journalism Review Online. He was a reporter at the Western Standard, and he holds a master's degree in political science from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.


Party of Confusion

By David Horowitz and Ben Johnson

Jordan Michael Smith’s attempt to refute our case that during the War on Terror the Democratic Party has conducted an unprecedented assault on its nation’s leaders and its country’s cause, gets off to a bad start with an attack on the character of 18 members of Congress who have endorsed this thesis. These Congressmen include senators and representatives, and among them are the ranking members of the Homeland Security; Armed Services; Judiciary; Immigration; and Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security committees and sub-committees. The idea that members of the House and Senate leadership who have distinguished records of working with the opposition party on matters of national security would endorse a “wretched book … filled with selective readings of history, distortions, half-truths, hyperbole and dishonest arguments,” as Smith describes it, is simply absurd. But it is not atypical of the attacks that have been made on our book by the Left, which has been unable to answer the arguments we make on their merits.

Jordan Smith’s response is no exception to this rule. After the rough start, it begins well enough with a summary of our case against opponents of the Iraq War. We showed that in attacking the war policy the leaders of the Democratic Party lied about the rationale for going to war and about the conduct of the president in leading the nation into the war, and in the process argued a case worthy of – and extremely useful to – the enemy camp. But having summarized parts of this argument, Smith fails to provide any evidence to refute what we said. Nor does he provide any substantiation for the ad hominem attack in his title which suggests that either we or Republicans (or both) are deceitful.

Smith’s case against our book is based on two claims – first, that the Democrats’ attacks on a war their country was fighting were not “unprecedented” (and therefore not dishonorable); and second, that America’s invasion of Iraq was not, as we had claimed, to enforce international law because “only the most gullible partisans could believe that the Bush administration cared at all about international law.”

This second point is really Smith’s only substantive argument, so let us begin by reviewing it. In our book, we pointed out that the trigger for the war was Saddam’s defiance of a unanimous Security Council resolution, 1441, which was also a war ultimatum. (Both of these points are made by chief UN weapons inspector Hanx Blix in his book Disarming Iraq.) The ultimatum, which was passed on November 8, 2002, gave Saddam 30 days – until December 7, 2002 – to comply. The ultimatum was to stop obstructing the UN inspectors, to provide a complete report on the disposition of all Weapons of Mass Destruction previously identified by them, and to destroy those weapons. According to Blix, the report Saddam filed was compiled composed of old reports and was in effect a defiance of the ultimatum itself. On December 19, the United States and Britain issued a statement saying that Iraq was in material breach of the arms control agreements it had signed with the UN. This was the actual cause of the war.

These arms control agreements were not ordinary UN resolutions. They constituted and then attempted to enforce the truce Saddam signed to end the Gulf War of 1991. This truce allowed him to stay in power, and his defiance of the truce and violation of its terms had caused President Bill Clinton to sponsor, and a virtually unanimous Congress to pass, “The Iraqi Liberation Act” of 1998, which called for Saddam’s removal by force. The Gulf War truce consisted of UN Security Council Resolutions 687 and 689. The November 2002 ultimatum was the 17th such resolution he had defied, each of which was a violation of the Gulf War truce, a violation of international law, and a just cause for the United States (and all willing UN member nations) to go to war.

Smith addresses none of these facts. Instead, to prove that “only gullible partisans” would believe that the Bush Administration cared about international law, he brings up – among other spurious examples – the Kyoto Protocol and Israel’s “violation” of 150 UN resolutions condemning its actions. The Kyoto treaty was rejected by a vote of 99-1 in the United States Senate by Democrats and Republicans alike. The 150 resolutions condemning Israel were not Security Council resolutions, did not have the force of international law, and were specifically not resolutions to enforce a truce ending a war that Israel had started. They were anti-Israel resolutions condemning the victims of aggression which were passed by a General Assembly that gave standing ovations to the cannibal Idi Amin and the terrorist Yasser Arafat, and that passed no resolution condemning Saddam’s unprovoked Scud missile attacks on Israeli civilians during the Gulf War; the same body that has never passed a resolution condemning the terrorist violence against Israelis sponsored or conducted by Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. On the contrary, the UN General Assembly recently passed a resolution condemning criticism of Islam – but no other religion – as a hate crime.

Smith is unconcerned about the subordination of the UN’s General Assembly and its administrative apparatus to the bigoted and malign purposes of the Arab-Islamist bloc. He even attempts to use it against us: “Just in August, Horowitz declared the UN to be comprised of ‘pro-Islamist Arab dictatorships and their allies.’ How can he and Johnson argue for a war on its behalf? Are pro-Islamist Arab dictatorships worth dying for?” But of course this is merely a subterfuge, continuing Smith’s ill-informed conflation of the General Assembly with the Security Council, a much smaller body which is not controlled by Arabs or Islamists and whose peacekeeping resolutions have the force of international law.

Is it the case, on the other hand, that only a gullible Republican partisan would believe that the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq was born of its concern for international law? Here is what one political leader had to say to the French government when it declared that it would veto any Security Council attempt to enforce its own resolutions, including the November 8 ultimatum: “This is such a foolish thing to do at this moment in the world’s history. The very people who should be strengthening the international institutions are undermining [them].” The leader who said this was British Prime Minister (and socialist) Tony Blair. Moreover, this statement by Blair appears on p. 65 of Party of Defeat.

The only other argument that Smith makes in his response is that we mischaracterize the Democrats’ defection from the war in Iraq as “unprecedented,” when according to him the Democrats followed “a long history of oppositional-party dissenting from wars.” In fact, we never said that we had a problem with an opposition party dissenting from the way in which wars were conducted. In fact, we praised critics of the Iraq war policy such as General Shinseki as offering a dissent that was both valuable and necessary. We distinguished what we called “normal criticism” of war policy with the “reckless” and “irresponsible” attacks on both America’s war and its commander-in-chief while America’s troops were in harm’s way. We singled out the statements of Democrats that accused America of attacking a country that was “no threat,” of violating international law, of conducting systematic torture approved at the highest level, of conducting aggression under false pretenses – in short of being an international war criminal. We gave examples of statements by John Kerry, Al Gore, Richard Durbin, Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy – in a word the leadership of the Democratic Party – which we regarded as “sabotage” rather than criticism of the war effort. Early on, we wrote:

"Even as American soldiers have fought a fanatical enemy on the battlefields of Iraq, their president has been condemned as a deceiver who led them into war through “lies,”(1) as a destroyer of American liberties (2) and a desecrater of the Constitution,(3) as a usurper who stole his high office, (4) as the architect of an “unnecessary war,” (5) as a “fraud,” (6) as a leader who “betrayed us,”(7) and a president who cynically sent the flower of American youth to die in a foreign land in order to enrich himself and his friends."(8)

In arguing his case that such attacks are not unprecedented but stem from a long line of oppositional dissent, Smith invokes two historical examples – the policy disputes over the wars in Vietnam and Korea. According to Smith, the claim we make that the attacks on the war in Iraq are unprecedented “is only possible because Party of Defeat contains no actual history of previous American wars. Horowitz and Johnson are either unaware of the political environment during wars before Vietnam, or they are simply depending on their readers being ignorant of it.”

This statement by Smith is just false.

In fact, we refute Smith’s claim in our book – and in so many words: “It is one of the ironies of the campaign against the war in Iraq that its opponents cite the political conflicts over Vietnam as a precedent for their extraordinary attacks on a war in progress. In doing so, they misconstrue the past and misunderstand its lessons. During Vietnam, the nation’s political leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, were united in their support of the war effort for more than 10 years. Their bipartisan unity only came to an end when both parties conceded that a victory was no longer politically possible. It was only in the presidential campaign of 1972, 11 years after the first American advisers were sent to Vietnam that Senator George McGovern ran against the war itself. By that time both parties were agreed on a policy of military withdrawal, and by that time truce negotiations with the Communists – initiated by a Republican administration -- had already begun.” (p. 9)

Although we do not discuss the Korean War in our book, Smith’s remarks on this war reveal that he does not understand the argument we make that the Democrats’ criticism of the war in Iraq crossed the line between legitimate dissent and disloyal attacks. Smith cites the comment of a historian of the Truman administration that “Republican partisans were quick to blame the impending debacle in Korea on the Democrats’ naiveté and duplicity at Yalta and Potsdam and on their timidity and gullibility in China.” But this quote (and the others he cites) shows that Republicans supported America’s anti-Communist war aims in Korea, they just felt the war wasn’t being prosecuted vigorously enough – a failure they attributed to the infiltration of the Roosevelt administration by Communists (of which there were not a few). This kind of criticism of an insufficiently robust war policy is exactly parallel to General Shinseki’s criticism of the Bush administration for not providing enough troops to successfully prosecute the war in Iraq – a criticism we praise in our book. This is a far cry from saying that America’s war itself is immoral, illegal, duplicitous, and corrupt.

Smith’s failure to provide a single respectable argument against the case laid out in Party of Defeat is disappointing but not surprising. As we respond to one critic of the war after another, it is increasingly evident that there is no case to be made – other than name-calling – for the Democrats’ disgraceful conduct during the war in Iraq, their abandonment of America’s cause, and their betrayal of her troops in the heat of battle. The propaganda war that Democrats waged against their own country will be remembered as one of the darkest chapters in our political history.


[1] Jimmy Carter, UK Independent, March 22, 2004

[2] Senator Richard Durbin: “The Patriot Act crossed the line on several key areas of civil liberties.” Quoted in Associated Press. “Gore to Bush: Rescind Patriot Act.” Wired. November 10, 2003. Online at: http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2003/11/61170.

[3] Al Gore. “Iraq and the War on Terrorism.” Commonwealth Club. Sept. 23, 2002. Online at: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/02/02-09gore-speech.html.

[4] Jimmy Carter, July 30, 2005, World Net Daily.

[5] Senator Edward Kennedy

[6] Gore

[7] Kennedy

[Editors' note: We welcome Jordan Smith to respond to this answer to his critique. And all anti-war critics take note: we are offering $500 to any of you -- who have written for a reputable publication -- to write a critique of Party of Defeat and its main thesis. Contact Frontpage Managing Editor Jamie Glazov at jglazov@rogers.com to sign up.]

Party of Defeat Challenges:

To read Robert Farley's exchange with the authors, click here.
To read Michael Isikoff's exchange with the authors, click here.
To read Ben Johnson's exchange with William Blum, click here.
See also Nick Cohen's, Jeffrey Herf's and Bruce Thornton's critiques of the book.

David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom. Ben Johnson is editor of www.frontpagemag.com and co-author of Party of Defeat.

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