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Disloyal Opposition: The Democrats, the Anti-American Left and the War in Iraq. By: Frontpagemag.com
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 09, 2009

[Editors' note: Below is an exchange between Ethan Porter, Associate Editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, and the authors of Party of Defeat].

Ignoring Tensions Between Radicals and the Democratic Party
By Ethan Porter

I rejoice at the publication of David Horowitz and Ben Johnson's Party of Defeat: How Democrats and Radicals Undermined America's War on Terror Before and After 9/11. The authors have summarized a strain of thought that has been circulating among the right wing since the Iraq War went south: namely, that the war's failures can be attributed not to those who initiated it, but to its left wing critics. Other books have trod the same ground, most notably Norman Podhoretz's World War IV. Yet Party of Defeat is the most coherent and serious member of this genre. It is therefore the most effective illumination of why this strain of thought is not only wrong, but dangerous.

It is wrong because its core presuppositions are fundamentally and factually inaccurate. The first such false presupposition is that the Democratic Party and the left are all but interchangeable entities, and as such, they work in concert. On the contrary, the relationship between the Party and the left-the radicals of the book's titles-has been fraught with tension for years. The hard left has sent a few members to Congress, just as the hard right has, but left wing Democrats are plainly not in control of their Party, no matter what Horowitz and Johnson believe. For instance, the authors impart special importance to the fact that language Congresswoman Barbara Lee used when casting the only vote against military action following 9/11 was later adopted by the Party as a whole. By their reading, her vote, and her rhetoric, marked the beginning of the left's attempt to undermine the War on Terror. But the salient facts are these: Lee's vote was the only vote against military action. Her language, focused on the lack of an exit strategy, was later adopted by the Party as the absence of a coherent exit plan troubled even the war's most diehard supporters. Today, the Progressive Caucus Lee leads counts about a third of the House Caucus as members-a far cry from anything like majority control. The Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, do not even have an analogous caucus.

This is but one example of the way in which Horowitz and Johnson transform actors of questionable consequence into major players. Medea Benjamin, founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, is discussed at length in the book, and treated as someone whose various pronouncements had major impact on the war debate, and the Democratic Party's role in that debate. But Benjamin's group, Code Pink, is often at odds with the Democratic leadership. After the party took control of Congress in 2006, a Code Pink protest brought a press conference of the newly Democratic house leadership to a halt. At the DNC's 2007 winter meeting, Code Pink interrupted the presidential candidates' form. Benjamin herself is beloved by radicals, but unknown to many Democrats, professional or otherwise. I would be willing to wager that most Democratic National Committee staffers have not heard of Benjamin, and those that have are probably not especially fond of her, let alone politically responsive to her demands. But Horowitz and Johnson grant her incredible power.

The chasm between radicals and the Democratic Party is deep. In the spring of 2007, I asked the chief of staff to a newly elected, fiercely antiwar Democratic Congressman how the Congressman's office reacted to antiwar groups like Code Pink who gathered outside the Capitol. The chief of staff laughed, and said that the office had no time to pay attention to the protestors. Governing, the business of crafting legislation and casting votes, is a time-consuming job. To put it simply, colluding with radicals is not high on the agenda of most Democratic politicians, even those who have opposed the war most fervently.

The tensions between radicals and the Democratic Party are well known. Such tensions explain Ralph Nader's multiple quests for the presidency. Today, some of the left are in a state of high anxiety over Barack Obama's ostensibly centrist cabinet selections Horowitz and Johnson fail to mention any of this. Instead, they do the best to make the facts fit their thesis. In their reductive reading, Cindy Sheehan's protest outside of President Bush's ranch exemplifies the Democrats' encouragement of radicalism. Indeed, Sheehan is a radical, and indeed, Democrats were supportive of her in the early stages of her activism. Yet the Party distanced itself from Sheehan as she unveiled her more radical colors, causing great conflict between radicals and Party leaders. This past election cycle, Sheehan challenged the leading Democrat in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, by running against her in the Democratic primary (Sheehan also participated in the aforementioned Code Pink protest of the Democratic leadership's press conference). If the Democratic Party and the left Sheehan represents are in cahoots, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

And if legislators pay minimal attention to radicals, it seems even less likely that our troops do. American soldiers are the best prepared, best equipped in the world, with a tradition of excellence that stretches back generations. What, exactly, have war opponents done to undermine them? Did they publish battlefield plans in advance? Did they support the insane rantings of Osama Bin Laden? Of course not. Horowitz and Johnson argue that comments-yes, merely public statements-made by a few politicians and a few activists negatively affected troops on the battlefield. This is patently absurd. The only evidence offered of causation between criticism of the war and diminished success on the battlefield comes from the testimony of one soldier described in the book. Yet Horowitz and Johnson repeatedly assert that criticism of the war has actively undermined the war effort. When an extraordinary claim is made, the burden of proof lies with the accuser. Horowitz and Johnson fail to pass even the most basic evidentiary threshold; one soldier's testimony does not make a case. In the process, they severely underestimate the will of America's fighting forces, while discounting the possibility that some soldiers fight precisely to defend the existence of vigorous dissent at home. (I have spoken to one who does, but will maintain a higher standard than the authors).

What makes all this dangerous, as opposed to merely poorly argued and inaccurate, is the considerable threat Party of Defeat's argument poses to our ability to win the War on Terror. The post-9/11 debate over foreign policy has been characterized by intense disagreement; the passion on both sides reflects the enormity of the challenges before us. Horowitz and Johnson intend to impugn the motives of their opponents and hold them outside the boundaries of respectable debate. According to them, those who argued against the Iraq War were not expressing a foreign policy disagreement-no, they were actually seeking the defeat of America. Those who have opposed the administration's eavesdropping and torture programs are not interested in preserving the Constitution, but in allowing Osama an advantage.

Outrageous accusations like these make the substantive debate our times demand that much more difficult to have. Casting war opponents as essentially treasonous (a tattered white flag waves on the cover of the book) undermines national unity more than the expression of policy differences ever could. Moreover, when the stakes are as high as they are today, there must be disagreement about strategy and tactics. Not only is it part and parcel of living in a democracy, but disagreement, when taken seriously, can lead to better outcomes. Horowitz and Johnson do quietly concede that there is room in a democracy for dissent. But they never explain what differentiates dissent from "undermining the war." One doesn't have to love Jack Murtha to think that his criticisms of the war were well within bounds. But the authors attack his criticism mercilessly-as if the former Marine were actually intent on harming deployed American soldiers.

Without a sense of national unity, and without a commitment to debate, our fortunes will decline. Americans get this. Barack Obama's election was, above all else, a stark repudiation of the kind of argument that Party of Defeat makes. Obama was a war opponent, but even a cursory review of his public statements reveals him to be deeply interested in homeland security. Of course he is-he lives here along with everyone else. That the nation heeded the call for unity on which his campaign was premised indicates that, after the disaster of the Bush Administration, Americans understand that we can have disagreements without being disagreeable.

Horowitz and Johnson miss the forest for the trees. Their book plucks out random actors and utterly mundane criticisms of the war, and tries to weave them together into a tapestry of anti-troop conspiracy. The left wing, in their eyes, is vast and ever-present. Michael Isikoff, Newsweek's investigative reporter who has been hailed by many on the right for digging up the Lewisnky scandal, is described here as being part of the left wing. James Risen, who broke the eavesdropping story and won a Pulitzer for it, is also seen as an antiwar leftist (when there seems to be no record of him ever taking any political position). And the aforementioned Medea Benjamin is, according to Party of Defeat, virtually setting strategy for the Democratic National Committee.

To believe all this, you have to believe in the existence of an ideological conspiracy, stretching across industry. You have to believe that left-wing activists, with little evidence of power, in fact wield a great deal of it. It's as is COMINTERN never died. Yet reality is simpler. The Iraq War, initiated by President Bush, was a distraction from the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The War was poorly prosecuted, and there was no planning for coalition activities after Baghdad fell. Fulfilling their representative duty in a democracy, Democrats turned against it as the American people turned against it. H.L. Menken once said you could never go broke underestimating the taste of the American people. What seems truer is that one should never bet against the good sense of the American people during war time.

Ethan Porter is Associate Editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. He has written for The New Republic, The Nation, Politico and the New York Daily News.


Disloyal Opposition: The Democrats, the Anti-American Left and the War in Iraq
By David Horowitz and Ben Johnson

In Party of Defeat, we argued that, in an unprecedented departure from American tradition, the leadership of the Democratic Party betrayed a war they had authorized and undermined the domestic and international support for America’s troops in the field. We further argued that Democratic leaders lied about the rationale for the war, ignoring the commitments they had made to remove Saddam. They further claimed – falsely -- that they had been deceived into supporting the war by Presidential lies. We maintained that their attacks on the war were both reckless and destructive, as exemplified by their attacks on the President whom they falsely accused of being “a deceiver who led them into war through ‘lies,’[1] a destroyer of American liberties[2] and desecrater of the Constitution,[3] a usurper who stole his high office,[4] an architect of an ‘unnecessary war,’[5] a ‘fraud,’[6] a leader who ‘betrayed us,’[7] and a commander-in-chief who cynically sent the flower of American youth to die in a foreign land in order to enrich himself and his friends.”[8]

Like every other critic of the war who has responded to this indictment, Ethan Porter responds not by refuting our argument or defending Democrats on the merits of their performance, but by inventing a different argument than the one we made and refuting that. Thus Porter charges us with confusing the Democratic leadership with fringe radicals in and outside the Party and arguing that “the Democratic Party and the left are all but interchangeable entities, and as such, they work in concert.” He says this conflation is characteristic of our book, whose “core presuppositions,” according to him, “are fundamentally and factually inaccurate.” To refute the argument he puts into our mouth, Porter explains that, “the hard left has sent a few members to Congress, just as the hard right has, but left wing Democrats are plainly not in control of their Party, no matter what Horowitz and Johnson believe.”

The problem with Porter’s argument is that the attacks on the President we quoted above, which came at the very outset of a war their party had authorized, were made by Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, and Al Gore. Contrary to Porter, we do not confuse a political fringe left with the Democratic Party leadership; we criticize the Democratic leadership. To make his case that we elevate the Democratic Party left to a position of influence it does not merit, Porter focuses on Congresswoman Barbara Lee who cast a lone vote against the war in Afghanistan. We do mention Lee’s vote, but Porter misrepresents our treatment of Lee. Our reference to Lee follows a discussion of Congressman Marty Meehan’s accusation that the White House had lied in saying that Air Force One was a target after the attacks of 9/11claim. We then wrote: “Further to the left, the radical ‘antiwar’ movement was already stirring. On September 14, just after the memorial service for the victims of 9/11 in the National Cathedral, Berkeley Democrat Barbara Lee went to the House floor to speak against the war.”

In other words, the opposite of Porter’s comment is the case. We did make distinction between party regulars like Meehan and the anti-war left as represented by Lee. The rest of Porter’s “critique” of our book is equally meretricious. Referring to our comment about Lee (which he does not quote but only describes) Porter writes: “This is but one example of the way in which Horowitz and Johnson transform actors of questionable consequence into major players.” He then gives another, Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin, presenting our argument here falsely as well. In Porter’s words, “Medea Benjamin is, according to Party of Defeat, virtually setting strategy for the Democratic National Committee.” This is pure invention backed by no evidence, leading ) one to wonder if Porter has actually read our book.

We discuss the antiwar radicals not as puppeteers of the Democratic Party, but as a force in the Howard Dean presidential primary campaign, whose success caused leaders of the party, in particular its 2004 standard-bearers, Kerry and Edwards, to abandon their support for the war and turn against it. This was the decisive turning point for the party leadership which joined the outrageous and unprecedented attacks on the commander-in-chief as a liar who deceived the American people about the threat from Iraq and sent its youth to die in a war for no reason. The Kerry, Kennedy and Carter quotes above all were made in the course of the campaign. This 180 degree reversal on the war took place in July 2003, just four months after American troops entered Iraq and three months after Baghdad fell. Nothing on the ground in Iraq occurred to produce such a change. There is no precedent in American history for such a betrayal, and there is no evidence – certainly none offered by Porter – to suggest that the reversal was caused by anything but the primary polls.

Medea Benjamin’s Code Pink , MoveOn.org, the DailyKos “netroots” and other radicals are discussed in our book as an influence on the Democrats through the primary campaign, and also by providing phony statistics on civilian casualties in Iraq, and hyper-ventilations about the mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo which were generally accepted in Democratic quarters. Their influence hounded Sen. Joseph Lieberman out of the party, despite his liberal record, because he refused to reverse his stand on the war, as Kerry and Edwards had.

It was MoveOn.org that gave Al Gore a platform to accuse CIA interrogators of torturing more than 100 innocent Muslims to death on the president’s orders. (The figure is as erroneous as the allegation.) Medea Benjamin’s “pronouncements” have little relevance but her delivery of $600,000 of cash and medical supplies to “the other side” (her words) in Fallujah in 2004 – facilitated by a letter written by Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman (now head of the powerful Commerce Committee) had doleful repercussions. If Congressional Democrats really have “no time” for radicals of the Code Pink variety as Porter alleges, why did some two dozen Congressmen meet with Code Pink’s most conspicuous member, Cindy Sheehan, to drink in her foreign policy wisdom, even after she called the foreign jihadists killing our soldiers “freedom fighters”? Indeed, Rep. Lynn Woolsey invited Sheehan to attend the 2006 State of the Union Address in person, a privilege only Congressmen and invited guests experience. (Sheehan disrupted the televised speech and was subsequently arrested.)

Porter asks: “What, exactly, have war opponents done to undermine [American troops]?” Our book, which Porter has obviously given only the most cursory of readings is an extended answer to this question. Through their reckless and baseless attacks on the president and on the rationale for America’ war, the Democrats crippled the Bush White House, destroyed the credibility of the commander-in-chief, undermined the fighting morale of America’s troops, deprived America of international allies, encouraged its enemies and basically conducted a psychological warfare campaign against their own country. This prolonged the war, caused unnecessary casualties on the battlefield and made it politically impossible for America to deal with Syria and Iran, and their clients Hizbollah and Hamas, thus paving the way for the creation of two additional terrorist states in the Middle East and two wars.

If the Democrats’ had realized their goal of forcing an American withdrawal in 2006, as they intended, they would have imposed defeat on our troops, precipitated a mass bloodbath of the Iraqis who fought for their freedom, transformed Iraq into a failed and defenseless state, vulnerable to al-Qaeda and Iran.

The Democratic Party supported the leaking of classified counterterrorism programs like NSA wiretapping of terror assets, rendition, the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, and the propaganda war in Iraq, destroying each and undermining Americans’ security. In addition to supporting the treason of the government leakers as legitimate “dissent,” they have supported extending constitutional rights to terrorists, and thus supported an international campaign to tarnish America’s image and undermine support for its policies. When President Bush acknowledged the need for more troops, they universally opposed the Surge, declaring it had “failed” before it had fully begun.

Porter asks if leftists would “support the insane rantings of Osama Bin Laden?” Answering his own question, he assures us, “Of course not.” Not only did leftists support some of Osama’s contentions; they authored them. In point of fact, Osama bin Laden has for years cribbed whole sections of his messages from the Left – freely citing Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, praising Noam Chomsky by name, and citing a Democratic congressional candidate’s ridiculously inflated estimate of civilian deaths – in order to incite worldwide jihad against our soldiers. And civilians. In return, a number of leftist bloggers voiced newfound respect for bin Laden, calling him “not a raving religious fanatic” but “a political revolutionary with a strong sense of suffered injustice” (DailyKos).

Ignoring all this evidence and these deeds, Porter lays the blame on those who supported America’s efforts to remove Saddam and crush the terrorists. He accuses us of having written a “dangerous” book, because criticizing reckless and unpatriotic attacks is divisive. As we noted in Party of Defeat, “Taken in isolation, almost any criticism of a war policy or its leaders can be a legitimate complaint” (p. 160) and, in fact, we made a few of our own. What we are asking for is rational and responsible criticism, not wild-eyed accusations that “Bush lied, people died”; not attacks on our president and his troops as war criminals, not Chomskyite assertions that the war was “really” about Halliburton and a plot by Jewish Neocons to serve the interests of Israel.. As we amply document in Party of Defeat, such are the criticisms offered by the Left. We are not to be blamed for pointing this out.



[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.

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

[6] Senator Edward Kennedy

[7] Gore

[8] Kennedy


[Editors' note: We welcome Ethan Porter 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 Lawrence Korb's exchange with the authors, click here.
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.

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