Costumed antiwar demonstrators armed with hand-painted signs; banal antiwar slogans; diatribes against the president: To those of us old enough to remember the anti-Vietnam War hysteria of the late 1960s, it all sounds eerily familiar.
But this isn’t a repeat of that Sixties show. No, today’s antiwar fervor is merely the latest vocal outburst of frustrated, Blame-America-First leftists. They are trying desperately to regain their power from those days when they pushed the country into abandoning an ally – admittedly a less than perfect one – to merciless communist invaders. Thanks to a strange, convoluted ideological union of Nixonian realpolitique and pro-communist appeasement, America shamefully withdrew support for South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese immediately overran the country with massive military forces. They instituted the classic communist political control that resulted in hundreds of thousands of executions, and in the imprisonment and oppression of the surviving population. It is a measure of the communists’ cruelty that the so-called “boat people” braved rape, robbery, torture, and murder to sail the hostile waters of the South China Sea and flee their oppressors.
Today, the American war effort is once again imperiled by a bizarre marriage of ideologies. On the right, these include an element of the surviving realpolitique wing (the “paleoconservatives”), who still resist American intervention in Iraq and the Middle East. They are joined but overshadowed by the more vocal and considerably nastier hard left antiwar leaders, as well as the useful idiots who make up the sign-carrying crowds of antiwar marchers. As has been extensively documented by David Horowitz’s DiscoverTheNetworks.org, a large percentage of the people screaming for immediate U.S withdrawal from Iraq and condemning American intervention of any kind, even for self-defense, burnished their political credentials during the antiwar days of the Sixties.
I was reminded of this during a recent trip to Vermont. I was near Montpelier, making some presentations to conservative audiences on the subject of foreign policy. I was unaware of the “peace” demonstrations until we drove past one on the way to the airport. Led by aging, overweight ex-hippies in costume, it was almost a caricature of the Sixties-era peacenik demonstration. They were not a handsome sight. The mirror does few of us any favors, I suppose, but they looked as if they’d been “rode hard and put away wet,” as Don Meredith used to say.
Interestingly, with the exception of very young children in strollers, there were very few young people to be seen. Later, on the flight from Washington Dulles to Jacksonville, my seat companion, who had come to D.C. to participate in the march, told me that she guessed that fewer than 50 percent of the demonstrators taking part in the D.C. rally had been young people. I suspect that the suspension of the draft in favor of the all-volunteer military – a significant change from the conscription days of Vietnam – has dampened the antiwar fervor among young people. At that time, we believed that the issue was more personal safety than moral outrage. For the new generation of protestors, the situation is reversed.
Another strong probability is that young people are just different today. They are better informed; they have more faith in God and country than their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents did. Whereas the youth of the Sixties rebelled against American institutions, the youth of today is answering the call to defend them. Hence, despite the hysterical rhetoric from leftist standard bearers like Cindy Sheehan, we continue to see young soldiers in the mold of the late Casey Sheehan re-enlist in record rates. These soldiers love their country, serve valiantly, and lay their lives on the line for a mission in which they believe.
Such dedication is beyond the ken of the far left. Failing to understand the motivation of American troops, they look for conspiracy theories or military coercion to explain the fact that Americans are willing to fight for their country. When I mentioned the impressive re-enlistment numbers to my seat-mate, she shook her head in denial. “That’s not what I heard,” she said, in dismissive disbelief.
Her views on the war itself were no more informed. A mid-level professional, she said that she yearned strongly for the tranquility of peace and abhorred the necessarily ghastly aspects of war. Her analysis, unfortunately, had gone no further. Though she expressed horror at the number of casualties, she was unable to place the tragic losses in a long-term perspective. For many like her, history begins with their first memories. References to earlier wars and the grievous losses suffered in places like Normandy, Korea, and Iwo Jima met with a blank stare. Forget even mentioning Vietnam: That sets off a pre-programmed meltdown. Similarly, the fact that, prior to Rudy Giuliani’s winning the mayoralty of New York, the city’s murder rate was about 2,500 annually failed to make an impression. The loss of a single soldier, she claimed, was not worth the gain.
She had already gone through the predictable litany of “Bush lied; soldiers died.” So I requested that we shelve personal attacks for a moment and look at other aspects of the issue. As is the case with much of the rank-and-file that takes part in these demonstrations, the emphasis is placed on feelings and emotions, not clear analytical thinking. When asked directly whether Iraq was better off with or without Saddam Hussein, she reluctantly agreed that “without” was preferable, but that it “could have been done in a better way.” She was clueless as to what such a course might have been. All the same, she was convinced that “war is not the answer.” Results, it seems, are not as important as “how we got into it.” It was clearly in her mind a “quagmire.”
On this point, at least, she was adamant. I mentioned that in a conference call with General Casey a few days previously, he had said how stunningly different reality on the ground in Iraq was from media coverage in the states. I got a headshake in return. Clearly, the war-bashing media had gotten its message across. And yet, the definition of a quagmire eluded her. It seemed as if she was simply impatient for an end to it all. I suppose what she had in mind was America’s fast food preoccupation translated into foreign policy. As far as elections, constitutions, and freedom went, these optimistic developments were suspect in her eyes because they were “imposed by America” on reluctant Iraqis. Besides, I was told, there might be civil war in the future. Would not a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. presence and support trigger such a civil war, I queried? The concept flummoxed her.
None of this is to suggest that she was a bad person. On the contrary, she was a nice, reasonably well-educated woman who I am convinced is well-meaning, if terribly misguided. She also represents an activist wing that does not include a large portion of the American people. These are ordinary people whose support for the war tends to blow in the wind, largely influenced by the incessant antiwar propaganda barrage they endure from conventional media, principally television.
But what of the contrary view? Other than electronic media such as FrontPage Magazine, talk radio, and the internet blogs, where is the official response? The blame for this unfortunate lack of informed communication to counter the propaganda of the mainstream media must be reposed on the Bush administration and its poor track record on public diplomacy. The American public is not being told what it already knows: For example, that we are engaged in a war against fundamentalist, fanatical Islamists who have an ideological proclivity toward killing us.
Instead we get the pabulum about Islam being a religion of peace. We eschew any element of sensibility in our defenses. For example, while being told on the one hand that “air travel is safer,” we see blatant security flaws – particularly the politically correct unwillingness to profile a potential terrorist. The screeners of the Transportation Security Administration get kudos for searching grannies and fired for searching suspicious-seeming Arab men. After the elaborate kabuki of the 911 Commission all we see are boxes re-arranged on organizational charts. Meanwhile, desperate military officers tell of Able Danger intelligence reporting being suppressed, ignored, or denied.
Moreover, there seems to be an obsession in this administration with excusing, rationalizing, or ignoring the transgressions of former President William Clinton. The Bush administration not only covers up for the Clinton administration but actually promotes the man, giving him a dignity as an ex-president that he neither earned nor deserves. It is puzzling in the extreme, especially when outstretched Republican hands come back severely bitten by those they try to feed.
Worse, this policy of blanket excuse-making for the foibles and failures of the Clinton administration undermines our national security on a number of levels. By excusing or refusing to investigate previous failures or mistakes we risk repeating them. By not fixing what is broken we allow further penetration by our enemies through our admittedly porous defenses. Moreover, by pretending that the previous administration was efficient, well intentioned, and effective, we encourage Democratic partisans and their airhead peacenik allies to greater excesses.
One is left wondering whether anyone in this country – other than the brave few who are fighting for us and those of us who support them unequivocally – understands that we are a nation at war. To be sure, we still have time to straighten ourselves out. But it’s running out fast.
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