Lessons of '04

The current election is in many ways similar to that of the one in 1904. As Michael Rosen explains:

Then in the Philippines, as now in Iraq, American troops struggled to bring order and freedom to a land that had experienced neither, while guerrilla warriors and Muslim extremists stood in the way.

Much of the American public, the chancelleries of Europe, and the Congress -- especially the "anti-imperialist" Democrats -- clamored for the U.S. to transfer sovereignty and end its occupation, both objectives the U.S. met, although not without difficulty. Indeed, the divide over Roosevelt's unique -- his opponents would have said "megalomaniacal" -- way of conducting foreign policy fell neatly along party lines.

On the domestic front, a booming economy began to erase memories of an earlier recession while many Americans considered whether, amid technological advances and expanding international commerce, things would ever be the same. Debates over how to protect U.S. jobs while empowering American consumers festered in Congressional deliberations over trade and tariff policy. Then, too, the integrity of corporate America came into question as combinations and trusts increasingly began to dominate industry.

Partisanship seemed as shrill then as now with Roosevelt thundering that the Democrats "seem at a loss, both as to what it is that they really believe, and as to how firmly they shall assert their belief in anything," while Parker, feeding at the trough of anti-Roosevelt sentiment among Democrats, accused the Republican leadership of "a shameless exhibition of a willingness to make compromise with dignity." Thus, in 1904, like today, important political and economic cleavages bitterly divided the parties while the nation faced significant challenges at home and abroad.

An interesting historical comparison. One often forgets that we have faced many of the same difficulties before. Taking a step back and understanding what has worked in the past and what has not is vital. Why must we insist on revisiting plans of action that have fallen flat on their face as some suggest?

The most vital issue facing this country today is the war on terror. Unless we are able to fight back the attack of Islamic fundamentalists, our nation will always be in jeopardy.

Let's consider what Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari has said on the issue:

"Let us imagine the world if America had listened to the French and German logic saying: Give the murderers of the Serbs and the Arabs a chance for a diplomatic solution. Would Bosnia, Kuwait, and Iraq be liberated [today]…?

"Let us describe the situation of the Arabs, and especially of Iraq, had America listened to the European council that said: Democracy is not suited to the Arabs, their culture is contrary to it. Leave the backward ones alone to consume each other…

"See now how many countries are turning towards democracy. Even Afghanistan has a constitution. In Iraq, [they are drafting] a new constitution and handing over the regime, and Libya has changed…

"What are the lessons to be learned from this?

"First, the tyrants don't leave until bombs fall. The people alone are not capable of struggling with dictatorial regimes except with powerful external help…

While we may want to argue endlessly about motives, yellowcake and the importance of multilateralism, also consider what our alternatives are. Mark Steyn wrote:

WMD? Another dead horse. Whether you were pro-war or anti-war had nothing to do with WMD. Bush thought Saddam Hussein had 'em, but so did the French, Germans and Russians, and they were all anti-war. For most pro-war Americans, the need to whack Saddam was more important than the pretext on which he was whacked. He was unfinished business from Sept. 10. All the rest is footnotes, more rear-view mirror stuff.

That's why even the old quagmire scenario now playing 24/7 on the cable channels doesn't work for Kerry. Visiting foreigners often remark on that popular T-shirt slogan, usually found below the Stars and Stripes: "These Colors Don't Run." To non-Americans, it seems a trifle touchy. But for a quarter-century the presumption of the country's enemies was that those colors did run -- they ran from Vietnam, from the downed choppers in the Iranian desert, from Mogadishu. Even the successful campaigns -- the inconclusively concluded Gulf War and the air-only Kosovo war -- seemed designed to avoid putting those colors in the position of having to run. As Osama saw it, these colors ran from the African embassy bombings, and the Khobar towers, and he pretty much expected them to run from 9/11, too.

This is not something we can cut and run from, it must be faced head on. Lessons from the past show that the problem will grow and become even worse as long as we allow the terrorists and the regimes that support them to have comfort in our inaction.

Posted by Timothy Perry at August 5, 2004 6:08 PM