During World War II, when the 1944 presidential election came around, Republican candidates targeted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s competency and motives. They unearthed government procurement scandals and corporate “war profiteering.” Some even hinted that FDR was complicit in the war’s outbreak.
But they could not oppose the war they had voted for and the public approved. They whooped up political excitement, but Roosevelt won re-election on a motto of “Don’t Change Horses in the Middle of a Stream.”
In today’s war on terrorism, in Iraq and elsewhere, it is helpful to step back from the partisan bashing of George W. Bush and note that the critics’ dire warnings of only a year ago already have flunked the test of time. Bush could lose on other issues, but contesting the war is unlikely to benefit his political adversaries.
If you take the partisan rhetoric out of this issue, you can see that the war effort expresses American foreign policy objectives enunciated by Republicans and Democrats over a dozen years.
The struggle to defeat Islamist terrorism is necessary for America’s national security and for world peace. Simply put, that is why the public continues to support the war.
Another reason for the public’s sustained resolve is the success of the war so far.
There have been mistakes and setbacks. But there also have been hundreds of arrests of terror suspects, and so far no new attacks on our soil. Some 650 American military have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not in vain. Those countries are now more hopeful places, and less dangerous to their neighbors and to us.
In Iraq lately, the paramilitary assaults of Baathist Party agents and imported terrorists have begun to abate. Turning their wrath on civilian Shiites has not helped the terrorists to foment a civil war, but instead has encouraged all Iraqi religious and ethnic factions to compromise on a new interim constitution. Credit goes to the long-suffering Iraqis, but also to the diplomacy of the Bush administration.
Recall, in contrast, what critics predicted. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi deaths. The “Arab street” was going to rise up. Hordes of new terrorists would be recruited and descend on us. Friendly Moslem governments in the Middle East would fall and unfriendly ones become bellicose.
But none of that happened.
The Arab street, for the first time, is learning that democracy is possible in their region. Press freedom in Iraq is the envy of other Arab countries. Women’s civil rights have increased. Friendly governments were not destabilized; rather, unfriendly ones, including Syria and Iran, have come under new pressure. With Saddam gone, Iraq no longer finances suicide bombers in Palestine.
The United States, meanwhile, showed its lack of imperial ambitions by removing its troops from Saudi Arabia and the Saudis finally are cooperating in eliminating al-Qaida-affiliated cells in their country. Destroying such cells is crucial to preventing the funding and training of terrorists who could mount new attacks on the American.
While the war has not yet uncovered stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it did help reveal them in Libya, Iran and Pakistan.
Cynics cannot dispute that Libya has had WMDs because Moammar Qaddafi now admits building them, and has agreed to get rid of them. The Iranians have admitted the advanced state of their nuclear development to the International Atomic Agency, a United Nations organization they previously had fooled. The Pakistani role in providing nuclear technology to rogue states has now been stopped, thanks to the courage of President Pervez Musharraf.
Criticized unfairly for “unilateralism” when he led coalition troops into Iraq, President Bush surpassed the number of nations actively supporting the United States in the Gulf War. There are 49, with 34 of them providing troops. (Some unilateralism!)
The vital progress to date would not have been possible without Bush’s bulldog determination to take the war to the states that foster terrorism, rather than waiting to fight the terrorists here. Called a “liar” and a “coward” by shrill opponents, he actually has been a far-sighted and courageous leader.
His policy, of course, was not all that new. It was the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998, signed by President Clinton, that first called for “regime change” to prevent the spread of terrorism. Clinton’s speeches then sound very like those made by his successor since 9/11. The main difference is that Bush followed through.
Election-year spin and shrill name-calling won’t change the reality that global terrorism still threatens America. Bush realizes that the threat cannot, as Sen. John Kerry suggests, chiefly be handled by “intelligence and law enforcement.” Sometimes, it has to be confronted militarily. In non-political moments, both parties and three administrations have grasped this truth. So, I believe, do most Americans.
Bruce Chapman, president of Discovery Institute, is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations organizations in Vienna, including the International Atomic Energy Agency.