American Enterprise Online | 7.31.06
By Alan Dowd
“Jaw, jaw,” Winston Churchill once said, “is better than war, war.” Ben Franklin would have agreed: “There never was a good war, or a bad peace,” he said. Both of these wise men were right. But they also understood, as an even wiser man once observed, that there is “a time for war.” Sadly, we live in such a time.
Most Americans accept this, but not all. Indeed, a healthy percentage of the country—and apparently much of the northern hemisphere—are still stuck on September 10. This division cuts across party lines. For better or worse, it may have even created a party of its own—the War Party.
It’s obvious that the preventive warriors—President Bush and Vice President Cheney, Secretaries Rumsfeld and Rice—are members. A strong case could be made that President Clinton and Senator Clinton are members, although both have leveled their share of criticism at the prosecution of the war. (Those who argue that it’s all about calculation and politics for New York’s junior senator should remember that the very same pro-war position that could help her win a general election could cost her the Democratic nomination.) Likewise, Joe Lieberman’s membership could cost him a seat in the Senate.
Newt Gingrich’s recent observations about the need to prosecute the “Third World War” certainly validate his membership. John McCain has been a member for the duration, so have personalities as diverse as Chris Hitchens and Victor Davis Hanson, Ed Koch and Toby Keith.
John Kerry seemed to be a member, at least through October 2002, but now is not; indeed, he may have lost in 2004 because he was never quite sure if he was in or out. Speaking of wanting out, with an eye on November, some in Congress who were founding members now want out, or at least want to distance themselves from what they unleashed with their words and votes.
This is also true abroad: Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf doesn’t seem to know if he is in or out. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a member, but apparently only when it comes to Chechnya.
But for every fair-weather member, there are stalwarts like Britain’s Tony Blair, Australia’s John Howard, Japan’s Junichiro Koizumi and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai. We can add Canada’s Stephen Harper, Israel’s Ehud Olmert and Iraq’s Nouri Malaki to the membership roster as well. (Consider Malaki’s hawkish words last week during a joint meeting of Congress: “It is your duty and our duty to defeat this terror,” he intoned. “Iraq is the front line in this struggle, and history will prove that the sacrifices of Iraqis for freedom will not be in vain. Iraqis are your allies in the war on terror.”) Of course, membership has its disadvantages. Just ask Spain’s Jose Maria Aznar.
Back here on the home-front, members of the War Party may disagree about how large the Medicare prescription entitlement should be, how many illegal aliens to absolve, how fast to phase in new fuel standards, or where to spend the most on homeland security, but they agree on one big thing—that we are in a war. They agree that we must win it, and they seem serious about it. Indeed, they know it will be lengthy and costly. And they know the US must lead.
Now, they must find consensus on how to win and how to lead.
It is not easy to lead the world in an age when global leadership is viewed as a euphemism for imperialism. Some in the War Party need to recognize that global popularity is not the goal in a time of war. Even so, other members of the party need to recognize that being alone is not always the measure of being right. If no one is with you, then you really aren’t leading anyone. The good news is that America is not alone in this fight. If Washington remains candid about its objectives and resolute in trudging toward them, the anti-terror alliance will hold—as evidenced by the last four years and 10 months.
The War Party must find a way to think through possible solutions while not over-thinking the problem. Jihadists and their patron states are the problem. It’s that simple. Eliminating only one or the other doesn’t solve the problem—nor does applying the same solution to every terror state or every jihadist group. What works in Iraq may not work in Iran or North Korea. What fails in Afghanistan may not in Syria or Somalia. What succeeds with al Qaeda may not with Hezbollah. As long as Washington stays focused on the problem, the solutions will follow.
Building and maintaining a war-fighting consensus over the long haul—at home or overseas—takes time and constant attention. Contrary to what most history books tell us, the Cold War consensus didn’t emerge overnight. As historian Walter LaFeber observes, in those crucial first years of the Cold War President Harry Truman’s critics “tore apart” his doctrine and policies. They warned that Truman would weaken the Constitution, over-inflate the presidency, militarize US foreign policy and destroy the UN. (Sound familiar?)
Even after something close to consensus emerged, there were still critics. Senator John Kennedy criticized President Dwight Eisenhower for a supposed “missile gap” with the Soviet Union. “We are facing a gap on which we are gambling with our survival,” he warned. On the other side of the aisle, Senator Barry Goldwater concluded that Truman and Eisenhower “were losing the Cold War.”
Lamenting “the deterioration of America’s fortunes,” the arch-conservative worried about an enemy with the will and capacity to “dominate absolutely every square mile of the globe” and warned that “a craven fear of death is entering the American consciousness.” Both men were critical of elements of Washington’s Cold War policy, but both were Cold Warriors to the core—and both were focused on victory.
In short, criticism of means and methods is inevitable and often helpful. It is the criticism about ends that should raise concerns in this time or war.