Monday, March 24, 2003

Having a Memory that Extends Back to 1999: Curse or Bane?

These quotes have been circulating online, but I haven't seen them make it into newsprint much. The Saletan pieces from Slate are available here and here.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 23, 2003

I’m not foolhardy enough to discuss the war, just foolhardy enough to write about discussing the war.

The Tribune editorial page declared “no more arguments” last week, and when Sen. Tom Daschle attacked the Bush administration’s diplomatic failures the next day, before actual shooting started, condemnation from Republicans (and The Tribune) was loud -- and amazingly consistent.

Why, you’d think they all were reading from the same talking points.

Among those attacking Daschle was House GOP leader Tom “the Hammer” DeLay, who told “Monsieur Daschle” to “fermez la bouche.” (I’d translate from the French, but isn’t that unpatriotic? Hey -- “DeLay” is a French name. Better change it to “DeFreedom” -- fast.)

Of course, when a Democratic president sent our armed forces into battle as part of an international coalition, DeLay had no qualms about criticizing President Clinton and the military action in Kosovo during] the fighting.

As William Saletan, on whom I am greatly indebted for these quotes, wrote in Slate, in 1999 DeLay continually referred to “Clinton’s war” and “Clinton’s bombing campaign.” DeLay also worried about how other nations viewed our military efforts: “The White House has bombed its way around the globe” but “international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly.”

DeLay fretted that our military action in Kosovo “has made the Russians jittery and harmed [our] standing in the world.” He opposed changing a regime that represented no immediate threat to the United States. We had no business demanding that Milosevic -- the former Yugoslav dictator now on trial for war crimes -- “agree to allow foreign troops … to have free rein over the entire country,” in effect asking him to “slit his throat with his own people.”

Even after U.S. troops deployed, DeLay urged fellow Republicans to de-fund the war and “pull out the forces we now have in the region.” DeLay worried that once the U.S. “starts meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, where does it stop?” He claimed that the U.S. was “starting to resemble a power-hungry imperialist army” and described the effort as “occupation by foreigners.”

In other words, DeLay was far more personal, strident, and critical during the actual military action than Daschle. DeLay certainly wouldn’t stop attacking Clinton merely because of some trifle like being at war.

The GOP loathing of all things Clinton means that we’re not using two powerful public relations tools in this war. First, the Bush administration won’t cite our intervention in Kosovo defending a Muslim population as proof that our beef with Iraq isn’t an anti-Islamic crusade. But the official GOP position, that everything that happened during the Clinton administration was either bad or really Ronald Reagan’s doing, forces us to ignore our most compelling argument to prove our purposes and principles to people internationally.

Second, the Bush administration can’t use the one compelling slogan that would unite Americans behind the war: “Finish the job.” That idea also would help gloss over the less-robust nature of our coalition by linking this war directly with the last, more widely supported one. But implied criticism of the president’s father, no matter how indirect or useful, is not permitted.

Tom DeLay felt he had the right, nay the obligation, to criticize a Democratic president, war or no war. Maybe there is some grand tradition of respect for the president when we’re fighting. But it would be nice if the same people yelling loudest about that principle now had followed it four years ago, when the domestic political situation was reversed.

Unless the real point is that Democrats, for some reason, have to behave better than Republicans did?

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