[Editors' note: Below is an exchange between Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at The Center for American Progress, and the authors of Party of Defeat].
Criticism of War Policy is Patriotic
By Lawrence J. Korb
In reading Party of Defeat by David Horowitz and Ben Johnson, I am reminded of an incident that occurred in 1981 when I was working in the Pentagon during the Reagan administration. I was tasked by the National Security Advisor with producing a paper for a National Security Council (NSC) meeting at which the President would decide whether or not to continue draft registration. During his successful campaign for the White House in 1980, President Reagan called Carter’s reinstatement of draft registration after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan an empty gesture. He had promised in a letter to Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) to abolish registration if he were elected.
However, many congressional supporters of the Reagan defense build-up, including members of the “party of defeat,” like Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were actually pressing to bring back the draft, felt canceling draft registration would undermine the signal that the Reagan defense buildup would send to the Soviet Union.
The night before the meeting, Secretary of Defense Weinberger called and told me that the Army Chief of Staff was very upset with my paper. When I spoke to the General, he said that the paper was too balanced. As someone working in the Pentagon, he felt it was my role to present only the arguments for keeping draft registration. I hold him I worked for the President and the country and would not change it. President Reagan, after weighing all the arguments for and against keeping draft registration, decided not to fulfill his campaign promise.
Horowitz and Johnson fall into the same trap into which the General tried to push me. In arguing that the leaders of the Democratic Party are a party of defeat because “they are undermining the war on terror by their unprecedented attacks on a war they supported,” they use a double standard. In other words, to quote the Fox News channel, they are not fair and balanced.
For example, there are no references in the book to Republicans, like Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska or Senator Gordon Smith from Oregon, both of whom voted for the October 2002 war resolution. In September 2004 Hagel, a wounded veteran from Vietnam, called the situation in Iraq “beyond pitiful” (Senator Kerry quoted Hagel’s comment in a debate with President Bush during the 2004 campaign). Senator Hagel continues to describe the Bush administration’s war as ill-conceived sloganeering and in early 2007 went so far as to characterize the Bush administration’s proposed surge strategy as “the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.” In 2006, Senator Smith said that he would not have voted for the war had he known that the intelligence was not accurate and that President Bush did not understand the ancient hatreds of the Middle East.
This double standard is also evident in their treatment of Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), another Vietnam veteran like Senator Hagel. They call his use of the word ‘redeploy’ to describe his plan to withdraw troops from Iraq a “political stratagem,” ignoring the fact that this was the exact term President Reagan used when he decided to withdraw the Marines from Lebanon after 241 of them were killed.
The authors also try to demean Murtha by saying that when he introduced his plan in November 2005 to redeploy all US troops from Iraq, he suggested sending the Armed Forces to Okinawa. Murtha did say that, but not until June 2006 (and it was a mistake). His original plan was to redeploy the troops to Kuwait and to carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf.
The authors also argue that Al-Zarqawi’s death in June 2006 would not have taken place had Murtha’s plan been adopted. But as Murtha and others have pointed out, the Al Qaeda leader was killed by an air strike based on intelligence from the Iraqis, a mission that could have been carried out even if our forces had been redeployed to Kuwait.
Finally, they castigate Murtha for saying in June 2006 that we should reassess the situation in Iraq and change direction, just as President Reagan did in Lebanon and President Clinton did in Somalia. According to Horowitz and Johnson, these foreign policy reversals were indications to Osama bin Laden that America lacked the will to fight a real war and was therefore doomed to conflict with Islam.
Leaving aside the question of whether that is correct (one might argue that President George H.W. Bush’s abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal allowed Al Qaeda to find a home there) the fact of the matter was that it was Republicans, not Democrats, who got us into these messes in the first place, with no clearly defined political or military objectives.
Horowitz and Johnson also make a number of claims that undermine their thesis. They mischaracterize and overstate the role of what they call a national security white paper, which was published in September 2002. They argue that issuance of this paper absolved the Bush administration of the claim that there was no debate about the pros and cons of the invasion of Iraq.
This document was not a white paper, rather it was a national security strategy (NSS) that the Congress mandates must be submitted by the administration annually. More importantly, the administration did not make the case for going to Iraq in this document. In a speech to the Manhattan Institute on October 1, 2002 Condoleeza Rice, the National Security Advisor, in commenting on the paper, made clear that when it came to Iraq the Bush administration was not abandoning the concept of deterrence. Finally, analysis of the NSS, or white paper, which lays out the case for preventive war, does not make clear which enemies the President had in mind, let alone make the case for invading Iraq.
The authors also argue that anyone who supported the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 was bound to support an armed American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This is not the case. As the authors themselves point out, the act authorized assistance for any insurgent group that was ready to overthrow the regime, not an American invasion.
In many ways, the arguments in this book are similar to those made about Democrats over the last fifty years. Democrats have been given the primary blame for losing China, Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon and Somalia, and allowing the readiness of the armed forces to decline after the war in Vietnam and at the end of the Cold War.
But close examination reveals that these claims, like those made by Horowitz and Johnson, are overblown, and that Democrats have not received credit for their many accomplishments on national security issues.
The Democrats did not lose China or Vietnam. Chiang Kai-Shek lost China and Richard Nixon was primarily responsible for losing Vietnam. Nixon concluded a treaty with North Vietnam in January 1973, which he called peace with honor. This peace required America to withdraw its troops from South Vietnam; however, against the wishes of South Vietnamese President Thieu and our own military and CIA, Nixon allowed North Vietnamese troops to remain in South Vietnam. This, more than the decision by the Democratic-controlled Congress to cut off funding for military operations in Indochina after the peace agreement, led to the defeat of the South Vietnamese military in 1975 (a decision supported by many Republicans, including Senator Charles Goodell (R-NY), the father of the current NFL commissioner).
Nor were the Democrats responsible for losing Iran. In 1953, President Eisenhower caved into British pressure (that Truman had resisted) to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mosaddeq and install the Shah. It was this event and the Shah’s tyrannical rule that made it inevitable that anti-American, fundamentalist clerics would eventually take power in that country.
Nor did the Democrats lose Lebanon and Somalia. As mentioned above, Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush sent American forces into those countries without clear missions or well-defined exit strategies (in fact, Bush sent the forces into Somalia after he lost the election and said they would be out in 30 days).
Moreover, rather than undermining military readiness after the war in Vietnam, President Carter actually reversed the decline in defense spending that was begun after Vietnam by the Nixon and Ford administrations. Between 1969 and 1976, annual military spending, as measured in 2009 dollars, declined from $395 billion to $307 billion. This is one of the reasons why Mark Shields, the liberal commentator on the News Hour, calls Richard Nixon our last liberal president (Nixon used these savings to start the EPA, OSHA, Amtrak and index social security benefits to inflation).
But from 1977 through 1981, defense spending grew in real terms from $324 billion to $383 billion. In addition, it was the Carter administration that developed such advanced weapons technology as the stealth aircraft, notably the F-117A and B-2 strategic bomber, and cruise missiles. Finally, it was the Carter Doctrine, which states that the U.S. will use military force to ensure the free flow of Middle East oil, that formed the basis for our military presence in the Persian Gulf and the establishment of CENTCOM, the combatant command now headed by General Petraeus and began the process of aiding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets.
Similarly, in the immediate post-Cold War period, President Clinton stopped the decline in defense spending begun by the first President Bush and actually spent more on defense in real terms than the first President Bush had projected on leaving office. Among other things, President Clinton overrode the decision by then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to cancel the Marine Corps’ Osprey V-22 (he called it a turkey) and the Seawolf Class submarine, and increased the size of the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard above the levels set by the outgoing Bush administration.
President Clinton also increased the pay of military personnel who retired after 20 years by 20 percent, provided lifetime health care to all military retirees, and successfully conducted the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. Finally, it was Bill Clinton’s military that performed so well in removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq. President Bush’s defense budgets did not have any impact on defense capabilities and readiness until 2004.
When it comes to Iraq, the Democrats have made some positive contributions. It was Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the current Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who pressed General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, to admit that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Interestingly enough, not a single Republican on the Committee followed up or supported either Levin or Shinseki.
And it was Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who demanded that the Bush administration produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) before the October 2002 vote to authorize military action against Iraq and after reading it (the whole report, not the unclassified summary which so many Members read), led the opposition to the war. Finally, it was the Democrats in both houses that pressed the administration to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps and, led by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), joined by Senator Hagel, enacted a new G.I. Bill that provides military personnel with ample funds to attend college.
The purpose of our national security policy is to enhance the security of the United States. In carrying out that policy, this country makes mistakes and takes actions that, even if they appeared to make sense in the short term, can undermine our overall security in the long term. For example, in 1950 the Truman administration failed to stop General MacArthur’s headlong and ill-conceived rush to the Yalu. MacArthur’s action triggered the Chinese intervention which overran our forces and nearly drove the US off the Korean Peninsula.
President Johnson kept doubling down in Vietnam, a war he admitted we could not win. President Reagan and the first President Bush sent us into Lebanon and Somalia without a clear sense of mission or clear exit strategy. The real issue is whether we adjust our policies to deal with those mistakes. Truman fired MacArthur and began negotiations with the North Koreans in 1951 to restore the status quo anti bellum. Johnson halted the buildup of our forces in 1968 and undertook negotiations with the North Vietnamese. As mentioned above, President Reagan redeployed from Lebanon and President Clinton removed our forces from Somalia.
The reasons that elected politicians of both parties have turned against the war in Iraq is that by 2005 the American people recognized that the costs of the war far outweighed the potential benefits. As Francis Fukuyama, the neoconservative scholar, who along with Cheney and Rumsfeld, signed the letter sponsored by the hawkish Project for a New American Century (which urged the Clinton administration to take a harder line against Saddam Hussein) put it, if you had told the American people in the spring of 2003 that the US would lose 4,200 lives, suffer 30,000 wounded, kill 100,000 or so Iraqis and spend a trillion dollars so Iraq would have elections, you would have been laughed out of the ball park.
Or as Mr. Conservative, the late William Buckley put it, “if we had not left Vietnam we would not have won the Cold War. If we do not leave Iraq we will lose the war on terror.” Hagel, Smith, Murtha, Fukuyama, and Buckley are not members of the party of defeat, but patriotic Americans trying to protect our national security.
It is not the party of defeat that is undermining the Global War on Terror, but the mindless, needless, senseless war in Iraq. Reading this book is like listening to Hannity without Colmes.
Lawrence J. Korb, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, is a senior fellow at The Center for American Progress.
More Evasions From the Left on the War
David Horowitz and Ben Johnson
Lawrence J. Korb served as an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration, and is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a self-described “progressive” think tank run by John Podesta who is the head of the Obama presidential transition team. Given these credentials, Korb’s response to the thesis we present in Party of Defeat is notable as an indication of attitudes in the community of foreign policy experts who will have influence in next administration. It is also disappointing in that Korb, like others on the left before him, fails to address our arguments or, apparently, understand them.
Party of Defeat is not an argument against criticism of the war, as Korb joins others in suggesting. It does not attack opponents of the Iraq War merely because they opposed it. Party of Defeat specifically defends critics of the war. Its concern is with the reckless attacks by Democratic leaders on a war policy, and the way in which they placed party interest before country.
The analysis in Party of Defeat begins with the observation that the entire Clinton national security team endorsed the invasion of Iraq, both before and after the fact. They were joined by a majority of Democratic senators who first voted to authorize the use of force and then praised the Bush Administration for doing so. One of these senators, John Kerry was the Democrats’ standard bearer in 2004. In October 2002, Kerry gave a carefully prepared speech on the floor of the Senate justifying the use of force. While he claimed to be duped into supporting the war by manipulated intelligence data, Kerry sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and in fact had full access to all the information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies about Iraq, as did all the Democratic senators who voted for the war.
The invasion of Iraq was also endorsed by non-Congressional Democrats like former vice president Al Gore. In 2002 – in his first foreign policy speech after his 2000 defeat -- Gore specifically endorsed Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech and called Iraq “a virulent threat in a class by itself.”
Yet three months into a war they had supported, the leaders of the Democratic Party reversed their position and launched a five-year campaign to stigmatize the invasion as unnecessary and unjustified, and to describe their president as a liar who had tricked them into authorizing a war of aggression against a country that had “posed no threat” (Gore).
To call one’s commander-in-chief a liar in these circumstances was unconscionable. To withdraw support for a war only three months after you have sent American youth to die on a foreign battlefield – and to do so in such extreme terms -- is morally reprehensible and not incidentally destructive of the nation’s interest. This is what we argued in our book. To indict your own country as an aggressor nation and to stigmatize it as an international outlaw for conducting a war duly authorized and specifically designed to enforce a unanimous UN Security Council resolution goes far beyond legitimate criticism of foreign policy. This is the thesis of our book. We characterized these reckless and unjustified attacks as “sabotage” of the war effort, and described them as unprecedented in the history of American politics.
In his attempt to confront this argument, Lawrence Korb follows a growing line of liberals who have evaded it instead. He offers no rebuttal of these points, and provides no reasonable argument for viewing the Democrats’ behavior as anything but a reckless and unprincipled betrayal of the national interest. As we document in Party of Defeat, the Democrats’ attacks during five years of war even included support for treasonous disclosures of classified secrets and the destruction of national security programs. Korb has nothing to say about this. Nor does he comment on our observations that Democrats conducted campaigns to tar the American military and American troops with war crimes they did not commit, and in a fashion that could only be helpful to our enemies.
As with other liberal attempts to respond to our challenge, Korb’s article imputes to us an entirely different case than the one we made. According to Korb, it is our claim that all Democrats in the last 50 years have been defeatists and it is our view that any criticism of war policy is illegitimate. To refute these straw men, Korb invokes Democratic senator Sam Nunn, who was the well-known proponent of a strong national defense. But we didn’t argue that all Democrats are defeatist. We argued that the drift of the Democratic Party since the 1972 McGovern campaign has been towards the anti-military left, which helps to explain the extremes of their opposition to the Iraq War. The career of Sam Nunn actually illustrates this trend. Widely recognized as the senior statesman in his party, Nunn opted not to run for the Democratic nomination in 1988 because there was an equally broad perception that he was too far to the “right” to win it. He retired a short time later at the age of 57.
Nunn’s 1988 withdrawal opened the door to Al Gore’s race as a pro-defense center-left Southerner. But Gore was forced to drop out of the race when he was beaten in the primaries by the Massachusetts liberal Michael Dukakis and the leftist Jesse Jackson. Gore’s pro-defense attitudes were out of step with his party. In 1991, only six Democratic senators, including Gore, voted to support the war to reverse Iraq’s aggression in Kuwait. In 2000, Gore ran a left-of-center presidential campaign with another defense-oriented Democrat, Joe Lieberman, as his running mate. In his next U.S. Senate primary, Lieberman discovered that his party would not tolerate in its ranks a man who supported the war in Iraq. These facts seem to validate our claim that the Democratic Party has lurched sharply to the left on these matters.
Korb then chides us for making no reference to Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith, two Republicans who originally voted for the war but then reversed their positions. He calls this a “double-standard.” because we focus on Democrats. Indeed we did focus on Democrats, but that is what our book is about – the “party of defeat.” It is about Democrats and the radicals who influence them. But even if Korb’s criticism were correct, it hardly affects our general argument as to what constitutes appropriate criticism of war policy. Neither Hagel nor Smith indulged in the kind of “the-president-is-a-liar,” the war is a “fraud,” the commander-in-chief has “betrayed us” rhetoric that Democratic leaders did. Our critical eye is not focused on opponents of the war as such, but on opponents who attack the decision to go to war as immorally conceived and illegally executed. By Korb’s own account, the strongest indictment Chuck Hagel makes of the war is to call it a “blunder,” calling the administration’s WMD case a series of “honest mistakes.”
Korb accuses us of a “double-standard” again when we criticize Congressman John Murtha’s proposal that American troops should be re-deployed from Iraq to Okinawa. He refers to Ronald Reagan’s 1983 re-deployment of the Marines from Lebanon after they were attacked by Hezbullah to show that this is a recommendation that is routine in nature. But U.S. Marines were in Lebanon as a part of a very modest peacekeeping operation. They were not part of a 150,000- man force sent to overthrow an existing regime that had broken a truce and was in defiance of 17 UN Security Council resolutions regarding arms control agreements. Because the American force in Lebanon was so small and its mission so limited, the withdrawal had no significant strategic consequences at that time. By contrast a withdrawal from Iraq would have shifted the balance of power in the region and unleashed a civil war in Iraq itself.
We referred to Murtha’s plan to “redeploy” US troops to Okinawa, because it revealed that he was not really interested in the consequences of an American withdrawal from Iraq – a charge that can be fairly laid at the door of the congressional Democratic Party. Korb’s suggestion that Iraqi troops could have been substituted for ours in dealing with the consequences of such a withdrawal presumes that they would not have been crushed by al-Qaeda. Murtha made his proposal before the “surge” and while Zarqawi was going strong.
Korb’s attempt to dismiss our concern that an American military retreat would encourage al-Qaeda is disingenuous. This was not a Horowitz-Johnson hypothesis. It was what Osama bin Laden himself had indicated, as reported in The Washington Post and other news sources: “As examples of alleged American cowardice, bin Laden frequently cites the case of the withdrawal from Lebanon after the 1983 truck bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut and the withdrawal from Somalia after the 1993 killings of U.S. servicemen in Mogadishu.”
Korb misrepresents us as suggesting that those who supported the Iraq Liberation Act were “bound to support an armed American-led invasion of Iraq.” We did not. The Act stated that, “it should be the policy of the United States to seek to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” We mention the act only twice (on pages 10 and 46), in order to remind readers that regime change in Iraq did not originate as a policy with the Bush administration or the Republican Party.
Korb’s overall intention is to file us in an old and familiar drawer with those who claimed that the Roosevelt and Truman administrations “lost China” and that the Democrats “lost Vietnam.” Since the Democrats supported and prosecuted the war in Vietnam for 10 years until both parties decided it was unwinnable, this is a particularly unhelpful line of argument. As we explain in Party of Defeat, following a bipartisan consensus for withdrawal in Vietnam, the McGovern Democrats went on to cut military and economic aid to the regimes in Cambodia and South Vietnam, with disastrous consequences. But this was also after U.S. troops had been withdrawn from Vietnam by a Republican president, Richard Nixon. The Democrats’ decision to cut aid to Cambodia and Vietnam while Russia and China were still supplying the Communist forces led to the immediate collapse of the regimes in Phnom Penh and Saigon, and the bloodbath that followed. Korb’s false framing of the issue deflects attention from the question that actually interests us, which is the way in which the Democrats’ attacks on a war they authorized was destructive of America’s foreign policy and unprecedented in its annals.
In our book, we brought up the National Security Strategy paper the White House published in September 2002 before the vote on the war. We did so to refute Democratic complaints that there was no opportunity to debate the policy of confrontation with Iraq before it was executed. But the NSS paper laid out the rationale for the military confrontation with Iraq in advance. It justified the strategy of pre-emption – the policy of eliminating threats from adversary states before they become “imminent” – which is the heart of the so-called “Bush Doctrine” and is the focal point of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans over the war. Our point was that if Democrats had a problem with the Bush Doctrine, they had every opportunity to raise their concerns when the strategy paper was published, but they didn’t.
Korb brushes off the strategy paper as though it were unimportant, merely a mandatory government document to which no one pays much attention. Since Iraq is not named in the strategy paper, Korb pretends that someone reading it would not know that its recommendations were directed at Iraq. But Iraq had been the focus of White House strategy in the war on terror since the president’s Axis of Evil speech nine months earlier. It was a focus re-emphasized by his West Point speech in June, which the New York Times and others took as a signal the administration was preparing for war. In August, the White House was sharply criticized by the National Security Adviser of the first President Bush, Brent Scowcroft, for doing just that. Democratic Congressional leaders demanded the president “make his case” against Iraq all summer. On September 12, 2002, Bush delivered a powerful speech against Saddam’s Iraq before the United Nations General Assembly. Five days later, when the strategy paper was published, the administration was already massing 100,000 troops on Iraq’s borders. And the very next month, the president requested a formal authorization for the use of force to remove the Iraq regime.
In other words, there was no Democrat reading the National Security Strategy paper who would not understand its implications for the confrontation with Saddam Hussein. The reason there was no public discussion of these issues was not that the Bush administration concealed its plans or was opposed to such discussion but that Democrats knew the American public supported the president. Democrats did not want to challenge a policy the public supported on the eve of the November congressional elections.
We appreciate that Lawrence Korb was willing to take up the arguments in our book. We are disappointed that he failed to come up with a credible response to them.
[Editors' note: We welcome Lawrence J. Korb 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 Andrew Grotto's exchange with the authors, click here.
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.