The Magazine

Anti-war, Anti-Israel, Anti-Joe

The New Democrats.

Aug 14, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 45 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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You fight the global war against jihadist Islam with the political parties you have.

We have two. One is the Republican party, led by George W. Bush. Its heart and mind are mostly in the right place. Its performance as a governing party in time of war is, admittedly, another matter. Do we have a strategy for victory in Iraq? Not if one judges by Donald Rumsfeld's testimony last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It shouldn't be too much to ask for competent leadership at the Defense Department in time of war, leadership characterized by a willingness to learn from mistakes, instead of an arrogant (and oddly defeatist) smugness.

But at least we have a president who knows we are at war with jihadist Islam. And he is willing to stake his presidency on that fight, and to support others, like Israel, who are in the same fight.

It's become clear, by contrast, that the Democratic party doesn't really want to fight jihadism. It's just too difficult. Last week the entire Democratic congressional leadership sent President Bush a letter on Iraq. The Democrats didn't chastise the administration for failing to do what it takes to achieve victory there. They didn't call for a larger military, or for more troops in Iraq, or for new tactics. Rather, they seemed to criticize the (belated) redeployment of troops "into an urban war zone in Baghdad." And they complained that "there has been virtually no diplomatic effort to resolve sectarian differences, no regional effort to establish a broader security framework, and no attempt to revive a struggling reconstruction effort"--as if these are the keys to success.

But success is not really what the Democrats have in mind. They want retreat--under the guise of "reducing the U.S. footprint in Iraq." As they say, "In the interests of American national security, our troops, and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained." So it's time to begin getting out.

Well, one might say, at least most Democratic members of Congress haven't criticized Bush for his support of Israel against Hezbollah. But these members are lagging indicators. Consider the views of the Democratic party at large.

Last week, in a national poll, the Los Angeles Times asked the following (tendentious) question: "As you may know, Israel has responded to rocket attacks from the Lebanese group Hezbollah by bombing Beirut and other cities in Lebanon. Do you think Israel's actions are justified or not justified?" And these were the results: In all, 43 percent of respondents found Israel's actions "justified, not excessively harsh"; 16 percent "justified, but excessively harsh"; and 28 percent "unjustified." What was the party breakdown? Among Republicans: 64 percent justified, 11 percent justified but too harsh, and 17 percent unjustified. Among Democrats: 29 percent justified, 20 percent justified but too harsh, and 36 percent unjustified.

The Times also asked which of the following statements comes closer to your view: "The United States should continue to align itself with Israel," or "The United States should adopt a more neutral posture." Republicans: 64 percent say align with Israel, 29 percent want a more neutral posture; Democrats: 39 percent say align with Israel, 54 percent want a more neutral posture. So even with a centrist Israeli government that is responding to a direct attack and not defending settlements in the territories, Democrats have adopted a "European" attitude toward Israel.

And toward the United States. That is the meaning of Connecticut Democrats' likely repudiation of Joe Lieberman. What drives so many Demo crats crazy about Lieberman is not simply his support for the Iraq war. It's that he's unashamedly pro-American.

There is a political opportunity for the Bush administration if the Democrats reject Lieberman. If he's then unable to win as an independent in November, he would make a fine secretary of defense for the remainder of the Bush years. If his independent candidacy succeeds, it will be a message to Bush that he should forge ahead toward victory in Iraq and elsewhere. Either way, the possibility exists for creating a broader and deeper governing party, with Lieberman Democrats welcomed into the Republican fold, just as Scoop Jackson Democrats became Reaganites in the 1980s. Is it too fanciful to speculate about a 2008 GOP ticket of McCain-Lieberman, or Giuliani-Lieberman, or Romney-Lieberman, or Allen-Lieberman, or Gingrich-Lieberman? Perhaps. But a reinvigorated governing and war-fighting Republican party is surely an achievable goal. And a necessary one.

--William Kristol