The Magazine

Defeat at Any Price

Why Petraeus's testimony was a nightmare for the Democrats.

Sep 24, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 02 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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Globalism and Euro-envy are explicit, sometimes, in Democratic pronouncements--about the sanctity of the United Nations, the importance of global conferences and "multilateralism" (except in cases like North Korea, where the president already is moving multilaterally), the superiority of the Canadian or German health care system, and so forth. The Democrats are not unpatriotic, but their patriotism is directed at a large abstract entity called The International Community or even (aping Bronze Age paganism) the Earth, not at America. Benjamin Disraeli anticipated this worldview long ago when he called Liberals the "Philosophical" and Conservatives the "National" party. Liberals are loyal to philosophical abstractions--and seek harmony with the French and Germans. Conservatives are loyal to their own nation, and seek harmony with its Founders and heroes and guiding principles.

The Democrats don't conceal their globalist ideas, but their appeasement and pacifism are positions they can only hint at.

So Democratic senator Dick Durbin had the effrontery to plead with the nation to pray for our Iraq wounded and please not to forget them--as if Republicans need Dick Durbin to remind them to honor our troops. When Democrats dwell on alleged analogies between Iraq and Vietnam, the message is clear. "Bring our troops home," says Harry Reid, and adds the incantation "responsibly"--which magically protects him from all charges of irresponsibility. ("Abolish the Constitution and sink the Navy--responsibly!") When MoveOn held a candlelight vigil over the summer to support Senate Democrats, the symbolism was plain. We light candles to remember the dead.

But if we only remember the dead and not the cause for which they died, we dishonor and make nonsense of the noblest of all sacrifices. And we mock a president who asked that "from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain." That is the issue when Americans die in combat. Do we finish the mission and invest their deaths with meaning? Or do we shrug them off, inscribe their names on some sepulchral black wall in a ditch, and walk away?

Of course if our mission in Iraq were wrong or foolish or impossible, we would be right to abandon it. But recall that Americans have fought and died in Iraq to destroy a tyranny that was underwriting terrorism, threatening the peace of its region and the world--and torturing its own people to death. Americans died to put Iraq in the hands of a government that would terrorize neither its own people nor any other nor the world at large. Their mission was noble and right.

It is incomprehensible that the administration so rarely discusses the moral side of our achievement in Iraq. No doubt it's still impossible, in today's world, to launch a major war and depose a government merely for the sake of humanity, merely to rescue a people that is being torn apart and eaten alive by its rulers, merely on principle--although it is fair to wonder, 60-odd years after the Shoah, when it will be possible. But Americanism has long held that when we are forced to fight for our interests, we ought to fight for our principles too.

It's proving a harder fight than we anticipated. We've made serious mistakes along the way. Both statements apply to most American wars. The difference today is that some leading Americans would prefer defeat to victory.

Compare today's war in Iraq with the American fight to clear the Japanese out of Guadalcanal, from September 1942 through early February '43. Obviously that was a vastly shorter stretch than our time in Iraq--but losses in the South Pacific were incomparably greater. Imagine Harry Reid's reaction to news like this: During our first landings, four Allied heavy cruisers (three American) were sunk and a fifth chased away in a battle lasting 32 minutes; nearly 1,300 Americans died. (Multicultural enthusiasts who teach our children that white men are the bane of the earth should explain why Guadalcanal's native Melanesians "were uniformly hostile to the Japanese," according to Samuel Eliot Morison, "and friendly to the Allies.")

At the start of the Guadalcanal fighting, 1,600 American Marines and GIs died on the ground in a single month. Morison writes that "mid-October marked the nadir of misery" for Americans on that rank and lethal island. But one of the most notorious episodes of the war was still to come: In November the Japanese sank the U.S. cruiser Juneau. Six hundred men drowned; another 100 clung to the wreckage--of whom 90 were eaten by sharks or went mad in the open sea without food, water, or shelter and then drowned alongside their crewmates. The 690 deaths in this one crew included the famous five Sullivan brothers.