THE GOOD NEWS for the Democrats is that their leadership has settled on an electoral strategy for 2006. The bad news is that they have cribbed their game plan from one of the most disastrous campaigns in their history. The Democratic leadership has decided to elevate surrender to a party platform for the upcoming elections, with their national chairman, House leader, and last presidential nominee all running up the white flag as the Democratic war banner.
When was the last time that an entire political party stood for backpedaling the way the Democrats have in the past two weeks? Since Rep. John Murtha made his supposedly stunning announcement that he wanted an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq, the Democrats have embraced surrender.
Not even during the Vietnam War did a major American party position itself to support abject retreat as a wartime political platform. For that, one has to go back to the Civil War, when the Democrats demanded a negotiated peace with the Confederate States of America and a withdrawal from the South. Celebrating the popularity of former General George McClellan, who had come from the battlefield to represent a party whose platform demanded a negotiated settlement (which McClellan later disavowed), the Confederates assumed that the war could be over within days of McClellan's presumed victory over the controversial and hated Abraham Lincoln. Even some Republicans began to question whether Lincoln should stand for reelection--until Sherman took Atlanta and exposed McClellan as a defeatist and an incompetent of the first order.
Murtha's demand for a pullout gave the party's leadership a chance to openly embrace defeatism, much as McClellan did for Northern Democrats in 1864, using McClellan's field experience for the credibility to argue that the American Army could not hope to defeat the enemy it faced.
AFTER THE MURTHA COMMENTS, the GOP challenged the Democrats to go on record with a Congressional vote for retreat. Almost the entire Democratic caucus cut and ran from their embrace of the cut-and-run strategy--the House voted against the non-binding resolution for immediate withdrawal 403 to 3. The height of Democratic pusillanimity came when GOP Rep. Sam Johnson, a former Vietnam POW, asked for three extra minutes to complete his remarks. Several Democrats voiced objection. The speaker demanded that the members objecting identify themselves--and none would even stand for their own objection.
Since then, things have only gotten worse. John Kerry insisted that no Democrat had demanded a precipitous withdrawal or a timetable for retreat--and then demanded that the White House provide a timetable with dates for "transition of authority." (In other words, after deciding at the end of last year's election that the United States needed more troops in Iraq, he now demands a withdrawal after he demanded an escalation.)
At nearly the same time, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held her own news conference demanding an immediate withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq. Her second in command, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, shot back that he wanted no withdrawal and instead wanted the nation to focus on victory. Meanwhile, Senator Joe Lieberman returned from his fourth trip to Iraq and wrote that Bush has a plan in place for winning the war--and that it's was working. Democratic leadership respectfully disagreed with Lieberman's assessment--and then changed course and suggested that Lieberman replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.
Then the Democratic party chairman stepped to the microphone in San Antonio on Monday to further muddy the waters. Howard Dean told WOAI listeners that America could not win the war against the terrorists in Iraq and that the United States should "redeploy" 80,000 National Guardsmen in Iraq back to America. As for the remaining 80,000 currently in Iraq, Dean wants 20,000 sent to Afghanistan and the rest to be "strategically redeployed" to an unnamed friendly neighboring country to fight the al-Zarqawi network everywhere except for where they currently operate--in Iraq.
OF COURSE "redeployment" by disengagement with no intent to return to the battlefield has another term in military parlance: full retreat.
More than 140 years after McClellanism first raised its ugly head in the Democratic party, it has returned to drive party descendants into a frenzy of confusion and defeatism. Just as Iraq has begun to establish its democratic structure and its troops have begun to show progress towards organizing for their self-defense, the Democratic leadership is frantically looking for ways to bug out. Not even the courageous voices of Joe Lieberman and Steny Hoyer in opposition to their party leadership appear able to stop the panicked rush of the Democrats to claim defeat as their standard. The distaste of watching the Democratic leaders try to top one another in declaring America the loser in Iraq will convince voters to keep Democratic hands off the levers of national security for the foreseeable future.
Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.