Editor’s Note: When a democracy goes to war, its citizens have a right to expect that even those who disagree with the decision will watch their countrymen’s backs. They have a right to expect that opponents of the war will limit their dissent to civic persuasion and will not join the enemy’s forces – either by providing them with soldiers or leaking national secrets that would weaken the nation’s defense. They have a right to expect that criticism would be tempered by a desire to minimize benefits to the enemy. If the decision to go to war has been ratified by the nation’s elected officials citizens should expect that criticism will not take the form of psychological warfare against the credibility of the commander-in-chief and the morality of the war itself.
In their book Party of Defeat: How Democrats and Radicals Undermined the War on Terror Before And After 9/11, David Horowitz and Ben Johnson argue that in the course of the war in Iraq War the leadership of the Democratic Party stepped over the bounds of reasonable criticism of national policy and conducted a campaign which amounted to political sabotage of the war effort. They base their claim on a core of critical facts that have been conveniently ignored by critics of the war.
The first is that the Democratic Party supported the invasion of Iraq, but then turned against it within four months of its inception. This was not merely a tactical about face. On the contrary, Democrats now claimed that the enemy was no threat, that the rationale for the invasion was falsified, and that America’s war was thus an unjustified aggression and American leaders were in effect war criminals.
Exploiting a minor incident at the Abu Ghraib prison to promote the idea that American leaders were indeed war criminals, Democrats went much further; they supported leaks of classified information by the New York Times and other media agencies, the publication of which destroyed national security programs; and they rallied Americans to cut off aid to their own troops and force us an American surrender in Iraq.
The second point Horowitz and Johnson make is that nothing occurred on the battlefield itself to produce such a scorched earth attack on America’s war. What produced the change was a domestic political calculation. At the time of the invasion, a Democratic primary was in progress in which a far-left antiwar candidate was about to win the party’s presidential nomination. It was this fact that caused the Democrats’ eventual candidates John Kerry and John Edwards to reverse their position on the war, and the Democratic Party followed suit. Because the Democrats could not admit their opposition to the war was based on political polls – that they were willing to sacrifice American lives abroad for political gains at home – the party’s leaders claimed that the speeches and votes they marshaled in support of the war were based on lies that George Bush told them.
The third and in some ways most important point Horowitz and Johnson make in their book is that these Democratic claims about White House deception are demonstrably false. George Bush could not have deceived the Democrats about the intelligence on Iraq because the Democrats had full access to America’s intelligence on Iraq. They had it in a 100 page report called the National Intelligence Estimate that was provided to them before their votes and also through the Senate Intelligence Committee which oversees all of America’s intelligence operations and on which John Kerry and other Democrats sit. In a democracy there are no national security secrets withheld from the opposition which is why leaders of the opposition have an obligation to be responsible critics of the war and not make the claims or conduct the kind of attacks the Democrats did.
The response to this argument laid out in Party of Defeat has been a deafening silence. The grave charges Party of Defeat levels against Democratic Party leaders and critics of the war have been simply ignored by the leftwing media from the New York Times to Slate and The New Republic without exception. This silence cannot be attributed to the authors’ alleged marginality or lack of seriousness in their case. Eighteen members of congress have endorsed Party of Defeat, calling it "a well-documented and disturbing account of the unprecedented attacks by leaders of the Democratic Party on a war they supported and then turned their backs on," and advising "every American concerned about the future of their country in the war on terror [to] consider the arguments in this book." These congressional endorsers of Party of Defeat include six senators and the ranking members of committees on terrorism, intelligence, homeland security and armed services.
In an attempt to defeat the boycott of this argument, the editors of Frontpage have challenged critics of the war to answer it in these pages. Frontpage has even offered monetary compensation for the articles they might write. A surprisingly large number of prominent liberal and leftwing editors, journalists and pundits on the war in Iraq refused the offer (a list of them will be posted at a later date). Among those who did respond, including Michael Isikoff, senior correspondent for Newsweek who has written a 450-page attack on the decision to go war, not a single one has so far answered the argument as outlined above.
Today we post the response of Andrew J. Grotto, a Senior National Security Analyst at the Center for American Progress, where he specializes in U.S. strategic policy and the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons. The Center for American Progress is the think tank created by the Clintons and George Soros and headed by John Podesta, formerly chief of staff in the Clinton White House. Grotto’s response may be taken as a reflection of the views common in the liberal mainstream, not a reassuring thought as will be evident in what follows.
Off With Their Heads!
By Andrew J. Grotto
If you're a ravenous, right-wing conservative hungry for a smorgasbord of red meat seasoned to ideological perfection, satisfy your craving with David Horowitz's new book, "Party of Defeat." He and coauthor Ben Johnson argue that those who harshly criticize President Bush are essentially in cahoots with the terrorists, since they undermine the wartime president's ability to win wars. Naturally, this means that Democrats, liberals, progressives and other critics are the A-Team of terrorists.
So imagine my surprise when FrontPage Magazine, Horowitz's online mouthpiece, offered me an honorarium to review it. My first thought was they need better legal counsel. You see, I work at a terrorist training camp, the Center for American Progress, a Washington think-tank that has pulled no punches in its critiques of President Bush's foreign policy, and the Patriot Act and other U.S. laws and regulations clearly prohibit terror financing.
My second thought was how Chamberlain-esque. President Bush thinks America should not talk to its enemies, which presumably includes people like me. I'm pretty sure this makes FrontPage Magazine a terrorist appeaser.
What must worry conservatives like Horowitz and Johnson the most, however, is that 3 out of 4 Americans are now apparently terrorists, what with President Bush's astonishingly low approval rating of around 25% in most recent polls.
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The logic of Horowitz and Johnson's polemic is uncomplicated. "The object of war is to break an enemy's will and destroy his capacity to fight. Therefore, a nation divided in wartime is a nation that invites its own defeat." Democracies in particular will have a difficult time sustaining costly, unpopular wars because voters bear the cost in blood and treasure.
A war can be unpopular on its merits if it was ill-conceived or prosecuted unwisely. Polls show that most mainstream Americans believe some combination of those two applies with respect to the Iraq war, which Horowitz and Johnson emphasize as the front line in the struggle against violent extremists. Horowitz and Johnson acknowledge that President Bush may have made a few errors here and there. We're informed, for example, that "It was probably a mistake to go into the conflict with so lean a military force."
This and other mistakes, however, are not the main reason why the American people have lost confidence in President Bush and other conservatives, according to Horowitz and Johnson. A war can also be made unpopular by cynical partisans who stoke the fires of populist opposition for their own selfish political gain, consequences for the country be damned.
This is the essence of their polemic about Democrats. Apparently, the left's criticisms hamstrung President Bush's ability to "achieve the flexibility or assert the authority required to correct his mistakes." They theorize that Bush "has been slow to take corrective measures on the field of battle," because of "unrestrained attacks" on his "integrity and motives." (I say "theorize" because they don't interview Bush or his senior advisors to confirm this.) Republicans in Congress, they add, were subjected to the same conundrum: "What Republican legislator, faced with attacks that brand his president a liar who tricked the nation into a needless war, would join a chorus of Democrats in attacking their president's policy?"
Well, how about one that puts country first? But Horowitz and Johnson-along with eighteen Republican members of Congress who endorsed the book-apparently think that is a bar too high for most conservatives. From that perspective, I guess we critics owe the country a humble mea culpa for forcing "The Decider" and his congressional allies to put their reelection prospects before America's national security.
But wait – if we critics were actually right about some or most of President Bush's mistakes, then Horowitz and Johnson can't credibly make their case that we duped the American people – who apparently aren't smart enough to spot liberal treachery on their own-into thinking that President Bush is the worst president since Hoover. So the authors spend a good chunk of their book trying to salvage President Bush's reputation by blaming Democrats for creating all these policy problems to begin with or re-litigating such issues as whether the Bush administration was straight with the American people about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Their screed will appeal to a conservative fringe seeking confirmation of their worldview; everybody else will see it for what it is.
Horowitz and Johnson then push this tortured polemic a step further. "To destroy the credibility of the commander-in-chief while his troops are in battle is to cripple his ability...to win the war," they argue. Thus, "a principal aim of psychological-warfare operations has been to target the credibility of the enemy's leaders and the morality of the enemy cause." Then we learn that those are precisely the tactics Democrats have used to attack the commander-in-chief, President Bush. Connect the dots: Democrats are engaged in psychological-warfare operations against their own country. Defeatists! Traitors! Terrorists!
The amazing thing is, there are fringe conservatives out there who buy this loony argument. In late October, the Republican National Committee mailed around a flyer with the line "Terrorists" emblazoned across the front in creepy script; it opens to reveal a picture of Barack Obama with the line "Not Who You Think He Is." Conservative pundits relish saying Barack Hussein Obama's full name, as if having a Muslim-sounding middle name was haraam in this country. Sarah Palin has said Senator Obama "pals around with terrorists." People at McCain-Palin rallies scream "Terrorist!"..."Off with his head!"..."Traitor!" when Barack Obama's name is mentioned.
This extremist fringe, groping for explanations as to how eight years of conservative dominion in the White House, the Congress, and the federal judiciary could possibly have put the country in its present tight spot, will find familiar comfort in Horowitz and Johnson's book, as right-wing extremists like Ann Coulter, Jonah Goldberg, Jerome Corsi, and even Horowitz himself have made its essential arguments before. For these readers, Party of Defeat's narrative is psychologically attractive because it absolves conservatives and their governing philosophy of any real responsibility for the catastrophes that eight years of conservative governance created or failed to contain-and that the next administration will be forced to clean up.
Otherwise, Party of Defeat is a testament to the desperate, angry state of the conservative movement in the United States. At a time when the country must face down severe foreign and domestic challenges-an open-ended war in Iraq; a rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan; a near-nuclear Iran emboldened by the Bush administration's missteps in Iraq and Afghanistan; a resurgent Russia; a fragile Pakistan; a global financial crisis; a domestic economy headed for recession-the best conservatives can do is call Democrats terrorists or revert to absurd mantras like "drill, baby, drill." Small wonder ever greater numbers of respected conservative thinkers – David Brooks, George Will, Christopher Buckley, Kathleen Parker, Peggy Noonan, and others – have sounded the alarm about the conservative movement's intellectual bankruptcy at the hands of people like Horowitz and Johnson.
Andrew J. Grotto is a Senior National Security Analyst at The Center for American Progress, where he specializes in U.S. strategic policy and the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons.
Horowitz and Johnson Respond:
Whereas conservatives may view liberals as woefully wrongheaded, liberals generally do not reciprocate but instead regard conservatives with ill-concealed contempt. Andrew Grotto’s response to being invited into these pages (and paid) to answer our argument begins with four paragraphs of personal abuse and a series of false charges, which we have several times refuted when they have been raised by others in this series. The tone, tenor, and substance of Grotto’s article are a string of demeaning epithets that in no way engage our thesis, nor any concrete facts connected with it.
Far from characterizing all critics of the war as appeasers or supporters of the terrorists – or terrorists! – as Grotto accuses us of doing, we went out of our way in Party of Defeat to make the distinction between legitimate critics of the war and critics who either wished for an American defeat or structured their criticism in such reckless and irresponsible terms as to make their attacks indistinguishable from those who did. In fact, we did more. We said that criticism of war policy – in the middle of a war – was requisite for the health of our democracy. ("Criticism of every war, including the one in Iraq, is warranted and necessary" – p. 157.) We have never – in our book or anywhere else – written or implied that liberals, progressives, Democrats, and critics of the war generally "are the A-Team of terrorists," and no sober critic of ours could accuse us of doing so. This claim is one that actually deserves the epithet "loony," which Grotto later throws at us.
Grotto attempts to justify his diatribe by lecturing us that "a war can be unpopular on its merits if it was ill-conceived or prosecuted unwisely" – as if we didn’t know this – while suggesting that most Americans who oppose the war do so on these grounds. But we wrote exactly that in a passage of the book he evidently missed, and again in our response to Robert Farley earlier in this series, when we noted that Party of Defeat praised such "isolated but conspicuous models of responsible dissent" as General Eric Shinseki and Brent Scowcroft (pp. 158-9). Yet Grotto persists in accusing us, falsely, of equating all critics of the war with terrorists.
Grotto either has no understanding, or wishes to have no understanding, of the distinction we make between legitimate criticism of the war, and sabotage of the war and our troops, which we regard as illegitimate. In our book, we argue that America’s flexibility in managing the war was severely hamstrung by the reckless nature of the Democratic attacks: "What Republican legislator, faced with attacks that brand his president a liar who tricked the nation into a needless war, would join a chorus of Democrats in attacking their president's policy?’ Grotto’s comment on this statement is: "Well, how about one that puts country first?"
Putting one’s country first – that happened to be our point. The Democrats’ reckless attacks on the President could not be characterized as putting one’s country first. How is it putting one’s country first to call the nation’s commander-in-chief "a liar who tricked the nation into a needless war," when the facts show that the president did not lie and did not trick the Democrats into supporting the war? How is it putting one’s country first to describe a war that was ratified by both political parties and undertaken to enforce a unanimous UN Security Resolution, not to mention the Gulf War truce, as a naked and unjustifiable aggression, and a violation of international law? How is it putting one’s country first to take a minor incident in a military prison and blow it out of proportion as a major war atrocity, and then compare one’s own government to that of one of the most bloodthirsty totalitarian regimes of our time?
These questions – which are the heart of book – apparently went over Grotto’s head.
Here is how we actually formulate our position: "Taken in isolation almost any criticism of a war policy or its leaders can be a legitimate complaint. But when one looks at the consistent pattern of the opposition’s attacks on the war in Iraq – on the integrity of the commander-in-chief, on the morality of the military, on national security programs designed to protect American citizens, and on the justice of the American cause – it is impossible not to suspect an agenda that is either recklessly opportunistic, or hostile to America itself." (p. 160.) Readers will note that we recognize the possibility that even illegitimate attacks on the Iraq war policy may spring from motives that are "recklessly opportunistic" rather than hostile – a statement that undermines every claim that Grotto makes about our attitude towards the war critics. ("Defeatists! Traitors! Terrorists!")
Grotto writes, "Horowitz and Johnson emphasize [the Iraq War] as the front line in the struggle against violent extremists," as though we were the only, or the most prominent, advocates of such a position. As we noted in our book, "Osama bin Laden himself has said that the war in Iraq is only the beginning of World War III: ‘The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.’" (Party of Defeat, p. 154.) In fact, bin Laden amplified his comments after the publication of our book, saying, "Iraq is the perfect base to set up the jihad to liberate Palestine." Even the New York Times conceded as much, last March.
Grotto attempts to tar us with the wilder claims of the Republican National Committee and other McCain supporters, although no such claims can be found in our book. We mention Obama only on page 92, where we recount his 2002 speech opposing the war in Iraq on conspiratorial grounds as an "attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression."
The rest of Grotto’s response to our book is a page-long fulmination which is without intellectual content and which merely expresses his unwillingness to take our argument seriously enough to answer. This is probably a wise move, since he has already demonstrated that he is intellectually not up to the task. Unfortunately, Grotto is not alone among critics of the war in failing to put together an intellectually defensible case.
[Editors' note: We welcome Andrew J. Grotto to respond to this answer to his critique. We also welcome all American Progress Fellows to join the dialogue. 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 email@example.com to sign up.]
Party of Defeat Challenges:
To read Jordan Smith's exchange with the authors, click here.
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.
To read all exchanges with authors of critiques of Party of Defeat, click here.