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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Saturday | March 08, 2003

Good Old Boys

It's rather sad that the Democratic Party has to wheel out its elder statesmen in order to make a strong case against invading Iraq.

This is not to disparage either Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi, who at least have broken through the cone of silence that seems to have surrounded most Democratic poliiticians since last fall's elections. Their anti-war speeches have been thoughtful, even eloquent. But Dean and Pelosi are out of their depth discussing foreign and military affairs. That's the price the Democrats pay for having made themselves the domestic policy party. It's not always the economy, stupid.

So it's been left to Jimmy Carter and Gary Hart -- two geezer Democrats -- to make the most forceful case against Shrub's war.

Writing on today's New York Times op-ed page, Carter takes the Christian "just war" doctrine and applies it to a preemptive strike against Iraq. He shows how a unilateral US invasion would fail the key tests of a just war:

The war can be waged only as a last resort, with all nonviolent options exhausted. UN inspectors are on the job and Saddam is destroying weapons, albeit grudgingly. We haven't reached the last resort yet.

The war's weapons must discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. An opening barrage that "shocks and awes" the Iraqi military isn't likely to.

Its violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered. There are no injuries to be proportional to. We can't even prove Saddam has ties to Al Quada, much less that he had anything to do with 9/11.

The attackers must have legitimate authority sanctioned by the society they profess to represent. No UN support. No NATO support. Just the coalition of the billing -- and the US Congress. Neither is enough to sanction an aggressive war.

The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what exists. All we offer are pipe dreams and fantasies of a "new" Middle East.

Meanwhile, in Sunday's Washington Post, Gary Hart looks at how the administration's obsession with Saddam ("George Bush's White Whale") is short-changing the war on terrorism. Arresting Al Queda operators, even top ones, is no substitute for shoring up our defenses, at a time when we are far more vulnerable than even Tom Ridge and his color-coded threat boards can indicate:

While deploying divisions to the Middle East our government has not been training and equipping police, fire and emergency health responders in the United States. While splitting the United Nations and NATO, our government has not made our vulnerable ports safer. While paying tens of billions of (deficit) tax dollars to Turkey, Yemen and other countries for basing rights in the Middle East, our president is not preparing the United States to respond to the terrorist attacks the CIA has predicted will most probably occur as a response to our preemptive invasion of a sovereign Arab nation.

Hart's conclusion: To leave one's own camp exposed and vulnerable when an attack is made invites counterattack; it is not the hallmark of prudent leadership.

Carter and Hart have delivered powerful critiques, each striking hard at different aspects of the administration's case for war. They speak with the intellectual and moral authority that comes from years of experience -- Carter as a president and international mediator, Hart as a Senator and defense analyst.

There are few modern Democrats who come close to matching them. And fewer still who are willing to speak out as clearly. Dean and Pelosi are willing, but don't have the authority. John Kerry has the authority, but would rather talk about his war record. Lieberman is on the other side. Joe Biden is . . . well, I don't know where Joe Biden is.

Forty years ago, William Fulbright used his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Policy Committee to expose the lies behind the Johnson administration's decision to go to war in Vietnam. His hearings had a huge impact on public perceptions of the war. In a sense, they were the opening act of the anti-war movement.

Granted, with the Republicans now in control on Capitol Hill the Democrats don't have a chairmanship to challenge a war in Iraq. But they also don't have a Fulbright -- one who hasn't already retired from public office, I mean. And that may be the bigger difference.


Posted March 08, 2003 08:23 PM | Comments (34)


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