One year ago President Bush announced the "end of major combat operations" in Iraq, and congratulated our Military for toppling Saddam Hussein in a remarkably short time. As he spoke to the crew of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, a banner behind the President declared "Mission Accomplished." That banner, which congratulated our troops on the liberation of Iraq from the grip of an evil dictator, has now become the focal point for criticisms of President Bush's war leadership.
In their weekly radio address Saturday, the Democrats trotted out an American veteran, returned from duty in Iraq, Army National Guard 1st Lt. Paul Rieckhoff, who passionately complained about the lack of foresight by the President and his war advisers; about their putative inflexibility in the face of changing or unexpected circumstances; about the lack of international support for our efforts in Iraq, and about the disappointments of soldiers who expected to go home, then were ordered to remain in Iraq.
This speech, delivered by a military man who was there, is the most compelling attack the Democrats have brought against President Bush so far. Most of the Democrats' criticisms of Bush's war leadership are a big hit with the anti-war Left, which now defines the mainstream of a Democrat Party that is steadily losing market-share, but to the majority of Americans those attacks on the Commander in Chief and on our mission in Iraq have a repulsive anti-American ring, and convey a sickening glee over American setbacks.
Finally, some bright consultant at the DNC recognized the problem, and sagaciously determined to paint a military face on Democrat criticisms of the President's handling of the War on Terror. Leftist anti-war radicalism, after all, may win friends and influence people in the Media and Hollywood, and it may be a necessary rite of passage to the Democrat Presidential nomination, but it is a ticket to oblivion in a general election. So, the Democrats have a new message: "the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a tolerably positive event, but Bush is handling it all wrong - and Democrats would handle it right." This approach is as clever as it is disingenuous; and yesterday's radio address was illustrative of both.
On behalf of the Democrats, Rieckhoff complained of soldiers' hardships in the War on Terror. Democrats are frustrated that the Bush policy has placed the weight of the hardships of war upon our Armed Forces, and not upon the American People generally. Why does this frustrate Democrats? The White House, Senate and House of Representatives all are controlled by Republicans. The Democrats are out of power, and need a political upheaval in order to regain power. A war that causes widespread suffering at home is the kind of war that can deliver such political upheaval, and restore Democrats to power. President Bush has declined to give Democrats such a war.
Instead, the central feature of the Bush strategy in the War on Terror is that America has taken the fight to the enemy's turf. Therefore, American casualties and other hardships are concentrated among those who have volunteered to face danger and hardship in the defense of our Country. The Left's attempts to market the American fighting man as a victim just haven't played, even in this Oprah-fied age. America's warriors are just too tough and too noble for the victim image to take root.
Notwithstanding, amidst our proud and devoted military men, there have always been, and always will be Gripers. They are, thankfully, the exception that proves the rule, but Gripers invariably erode troop morale at the margin, so leaders with victory in mind are careful not to indulge them. The novelty of Saturday's Democrat radio address is that a major political party chose to give a microphone to a Griper, in a time of war: when morale matters most.
Even coming from an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, the complaint, that the U.S. is "going it alone," and we need a greater "international presence," sounded like the Left's favorite broken record (although this record got precious little airplay when President Clinton led NATO to war, against the will of the U.N. Security Council). The simple fact is that not every nation agrees with America's objectives, therefore some nations will disagree with our policy. It may come as a surprise to Messr. Kerry & Co., but some nations want the United States to fail; therefore, the only sure way to gain the support of those nations is to adopt policies that are bound to fail.
As to the President imperfectly foreseeing the future, neither Presidents nor anyone else has the benefit of knowing the future when it is time to make decisions. The President's critics have the luxury of hindsight, but we should recall just how poorly those same critics have done at predicting the future themselves, before we grant them credence. The anti-war Left told us that our troops would be unable to cope with the battlefield conditions in Iraq, that our troops would be bogged down in the desert with inoperative equipment, that an assault on Baghdad would entail weeks or months of house-to-house fighting, and that the fabled "Arab Street" would erupt with violence in their indignation over a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Ah, but the beauty of being a Liberal is that when you are dead wrong about something, you simply ignore what you've said and shamelessly move on to the next complaint.
That George W. Bush and his team have made mistakes or failed to adapt to this or that tactical development is a given. Even the most successful wars are full of mistakes. What matters is that Bush's strategy is right, and his determination to win is right; and what we are asked to believe, on the other hand, is that John Kerry, the Democrats, and the U.N. will not only pursue the right strategy - a proposition that defies the official policy pronouncements of all the above - but that Kerry, the Dems and the U.N. will do a better job than Bush of executing that strategy. That's a tough sell, and with good reason. The American People may not be happy with the current difficulties in Iraq, but they instinctively recognize that the above proposition is preposterous.
This November, Americans will not be electing a fortune-teller, they will be electing a leader. Not someone who knows the future, but someone who will assess the past and the present, someone who has a clear vision for America's role in the World, and someone who is not afraid to act on his conclusions - with or without the smiles of the French and the United Nations. George W. Bush is just such a leader, but the Democrats have so far failed to put forward anyone who fits that bill, which leaves them with little to offer besides nitpicking and second-guessing. The fact that the Democrats have found an Iraq war veteran to do the complaining for them may gull the credulous, but offers no practical solutions to America's security.