When it comes to national defense, liberals are a peculiar bunch. Caught between their well funded, "no-borders" fringe and the practical choices offered by modern extremism, they're not entirely sure how to market a suitable strategy to the mainstream. On one hand, no one knows if liberals are willing to do whatever it takes to stave off an American Hiroshima; and on the other hand no one knows what the liberal definition of "whatever it takes" is.
This is a new problem for the Democratic Party. John F. Kennedy - a saint to the left - was not timid about war. Neither was Truman. A slew of Congressional Democrats such as Lester Maddox, Bill Tauzin, and George Wallace also favored big-stick diplomacy. We can also recognize John Tanner, Joe Lieberman, Zell Miller and Bill Clinton as modern members of this group. But that group stopped accepting new membership with the close of the 20th century.
Early in the running for the 2008 presidency, Barack Obama set himself as the anti-war candidate who, opposite of Hillary, was able to politicize foreign policy with a clear conscience. One might imagine that this platform has lead Obama to the considerable market share he now claims. But several days ago in Washington DC, he shifted gears and began discussing areas of the world in which he would conduct war. Obama said "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act, we will." Since then, he has continued to outline steps for persuading Pakistan to cough up Bin Laden, wielding military action eagerly.
This is no small political statement. Pakistan is the world's sixth largest country by population and a member of the nuclear club. But above all, it is an ally of the US as its economy continues to develop and thrive.
While it is refreshing - and unusual - to hear any Democrat make bold military declarations against terrorism, these statements could cost Obama the moral high ground on which he campaigns. It isn't logical that his remarks will persuade conservatives because his stand on social issues is left of center. He only stands to lose the disciple fringe, nothing more. Obama's sudden lash-out on Pakistan was most likely caused by Hillary's recent jabs at his political immaturity, but the motive is irrelevant. This pattern is rampant throughout the modern Democratic Party.
In January of 2007, Clinton said "I'm not going to cut American troops' funding right now because they're in harm's way." Yet only six months later in July, she voted to do precisely that. It is understandable that the Iraq conflict has opposition, and that the opposition has valid arguments to be made. But completely changing sides on war policy every few months will destroy her credibility as aspiring Commander in Chief. Dick Morris put it succinctly in Front Page when he summarized: "Hillary's constant flip-flopping on Iraq will bring her no end of grief in the primaries". John Kerry lost the 2004 general election for no other reason.
The liberal base would suggest that the Democratic sweep of the 2006 congressional elections proves that their marketing is stable and effective. But congressmen are not presidents. They do not make decisions regarding the military, despite their best efforts of late. As "evil" as Republicans might seem, they may continue to win presidential elections as long as terrorism rages and liberals cannot demonstrate a consistent national defense strategy.
Certainly, there are legitimate differences between Bush's reasons for attacking Iraq and Obama's plans for Pakistan. One should not assume that Obama is some sort of closet warmonger. He has addressed a valid complaint among the citizenry: where is Bin Laden and why have we not captured or killed him? But attacking Pakistan as a culpable participant is harmful on several levels.
First, President Musharraf has been a political ally of the US (and President Bush specifically) before, during and after the war on terrorism began. He has allowed US troops to police areas of his country and added his own military to the fray. In fact, it was Pakistan that helped us find and capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the dubious 9/11 mastermind. It is true that there are a lot of terrorists hiding amongst the wilds of Pakistan. It is also true the Musharraf sent his army in after them, and only backed off after three assassination attempts on himself. In just the last month, his army successfully assaulted a heavily-armed extremist mosque in the center of his capital, killing a powerful imam and arresting several others. So, while we might wish for more, a strong argument can be made that Musharraf is doing the best he can under very trying circumstances, including the strong opposition of an enormous number of his own countrymen.
Second, history shows that, whenever possible, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Japan and Germany are free countries and American allies today, not because we kept chucking bombs at them after they surrendered, but because we wisely helped their economies grow. The first order of business was to remove their hateful leaders; once that was accomplished, economic growth was the path to peace and friendship. Similarly, we could not hope for a more helpful leader in a strongly Islamic country than is General Musharraf; assuming we do not wish to take over and attempt to run the place ourselves, we do well to do whatever we can to keep him in office. Right now, that means economic aid - and indeed, massive American economic aid to Pakistan over the last several years has led to a growing middle class that generally supports many of Musharraf's policies in opposition to Islamist terror. Eventually, the bill for dictatorship will need to be paid, but Pakistani civil society is not yet strong enough to sustain a proper democracy, as has been clearly illustrated by its less than successful history since independence.
There are other contradictions afoot. Why would Obama respect "actionable intelligence" with regards to Pakistan when Bush's "actionable intelligence" regarding Iraq (and confirmed by Russia, England, Israel, Italy, Poland, and indeed Saddam Hussein's own generals after their capture) can be so freely discarded today? Will we be hearing "Barack Lied, Thousands Died" in a few years?
Historically, liberals have always feared countries with large militaries and vastly different cultures. So we can rest assured that Obama - if elected - will never actually attack Pakistan. But using that issue as campaign fuel will destroy his base. Even worse, it will undermine one of the few friendships the US has left in the Middle East. Obama's threat alone, has forced Musharraf to fail to attend a major regional summit of local leaders called the "Peace Jirga," which was an attempt to settle differences between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Could that meeting have led to progress and stability? We'll never know now.