"We are not going to run out of town because some people were lawless in Fallujah."
-Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
One thing Democratic Party leaders certainly need to avoid, if they really want to retire the president, is making the Bush Administration's war in Iraq their own. If Hubert Humphrey were still around, he could probably tell them a few things about what can happen to a presidential campaign when a candidate fails on the major issue of the day. And, unfortunately, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's recent response to the killings of four American private security guards in Fallujah is just the latest indication that the top Democrats could use a few tips.
The main reason that schoolchildren don't learn Hubert Humphrey's name today is that when he ran for president in 1968 he was on the wrong side of the war in Vietnam. Humphrey argued reasonably enough that the war's opponents had far more in common with him than with Nixon -- who was pro-war too. And toward the end of his campaign, he even hinted broadly that maybe if he weren't stuck with what had now become the burden of being Lyndon Johnson's Vice-president he'd have something different to say about Vietnam. But he just couldn't convince enough of his should-have-been allies that it was important to elect anyone president who was wrong on something so huge as that war.
Pelosi certainly is doing nothing but the right thing in expressing outrage at the mutilation of the corpses of the Americans in Iraq. And she is certainly being nothing but consistent with past statements of presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry in suggesting that perhaps the Administration has not committed an adequate number of troops to the occupation of Iraq. But the "fog of war," as Humphrey's associate Robert McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense under Johnson, calls it in the recent movie of that name, has many ways of making fools of politicians. One of them is turning a war's opponents into its supporters -- sometimes before they even realize it. And today's Democratic leaders appear to be in real danger of becoming fools to this war.
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With the Administration's basis for invading Iraq now reduced to the slapstick of the President searching for the weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office, most of the US obviously now understands what most of the world saw from the beginning -- that the invasion of Iraq was conducted on fraudulent grounds. So certainly the Republicans would like nothing better than a campaign that takes the issue of the war on which they are the most vulnerable out of the debate. You might think that the Democrats would never allow this to happen, but if they let go of the central point that this war was waged for a lie, they will have done just that.
Ideally, Kerry, Pelosi, and the rest of the Democratic Party leadership would understand the dangers that lie in having much of the world come to dismiss America's anti-terrorism efforts as the hypocrisy of an occupying power, and they would fashion a program for the United States to yield authority in Iraq to the United Nations or some other entity genuinely not under our control. But even if leadership of that level is too much to expect in a presidential campaign, the real world of partisan politics still demands that they not allow focus to shift from the Administration's culpability to a spat over whether a
Democratic occupation of Iraq would be better than the Republican one.
For Bush to be reelected for any reason would be tragic, but for Kerry to lose because he failed to effectively run against the Administration's Iraq policy would be farcical. I think Hubert Humphrey could tell him that.