The outcome of the 2006 midterm elections will have serious consequences for the war on terrorism and U.S. national security generally. If you liked the foreign-policy impotence of the 1970s, get ready for more.
There will be strong sentiment among some Democrats to cut funding for the Iraq war completely. They probably won't do that right away, since the president would surely veto the bill if it is too extreme. It would also appear reckless to the large portion of the electorate that was not motivated by antiwar fervor. Yet, they will not allow funding to continue to grow, and will probably seek a major reduction. This will undoubtedly be couched in terms of "reorienting priorities" in the war on terrorism — shifting funds from Iraq to what will be called "homeland security" expenditures, actually rewards to their urban base. They will also push through largely symbolic funding measures for the hunt for Osama bin Laden so that if he turns up any time in the next two years they can claim credit. (Note to Dems: Increase the reward. We spend $10 million an hour in Iraq. Even an Iraq-war supporter of my solid credentials can see trading a day of that effort for a quarter-million dollar reward for Osama, a level that might get the attention of the warlords giving him safe haven.)
The war effort will also be hampered since the Pentagon is about to be hit by a rash of investigations as Democrats pay back the Angry Left part of their base with ritual humiliation of the architects of the war. One would guess that Secretary Rumsfeld would be a prime target, though others who have been in the Building since 2003 will also be on the list. Someone will have to go down. In a piece last May (anticipating this unfortunate development — sad to be right) I compared this election to 1874, when the Democrats took the House for the first time since the Civil War, in the middle of President Grant's second term. Among others, they went after the secretary of War, William W. Belknap, who was impeached on bribery charges in 1876. Note that Belknap had already resigned before he was impeached, which set an interesting constitutional precedent. He was saved from conviction by the Republican controlled Senate, but the damage had been done. Of course, Belknap probably had committed crimes, unlike Secretary Rumsfeld, with whom the Democrats only have policy differences. It will be a measure of their radicalism if they seek to trump up some charges about deceiving the American people in the lead-up to war, a belief that has already been investigated several times and found to be baseless. But reality will take a back seat to political expediency; hearings and investigations will commence primarily because the Democrats will have the subpoena power.
One fears for the covert aspects of the war on terror, which are both necessary and beneficial. The "opposition by leak" technique that has hitherto been the m.o. will be replaced with formal hearings, the dominant motif being grandstanding with extreme umbrage. The model will be the Church/Pike hearings of the 1970s that discredited the intelligence community and rendered the United States helpless in the face of the threats we faced back then from international communism and rising radicalism in for example Iran. This too can't be overplayed, since Democrats would be blamed for the inevitable reverses we would face overseas and perhaps at home (if a domestic attack followed their all out assault on our covert warriors it would not look good). But the 1970s hearings got out of control to the point where even the Democrat managers had to warn against the proliferation of leaks and the damage being done to the intelligence community. Too late by then, of course, the damage was done. It will be again.
Guantanamo and the other places in which terrorist detainees are held will come under serious scrutiny with the intent of closing them down. The administration might consider preempting this move by releasing more information on the detainees, who by and large are violent radicals who would just as soon kill Americans as look at them. The Democrats might overplay their hand on this one, moving boldly to cater to their hard-Left base and finding that as Americans learn more about Guantanamo they will approve of what is going on there. But the approach to the issue will still fit within the framework of time wasting distractions undertaken chiefly for political motives, and distracting energy from the war effort.
My greatest fear is that this Republican loss will be seen by our adversaries as a great victory. In the past year, U.S. resolve has been tested, and sadly we have not always risen to the occasion. We could be facing a replay of the end game in Vietnam, when insurgent leftists in the Democratic Party brought about the de-funding of military assistance for South Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese invaded and defeated our trusting ally. This has already been predicted by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, and noted as a model for success by al Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri. The rest of the decade saw the nadir of American power in the Cold War, a period when the Soviet Union could justly be said to be winning. As we focus inward on recriminations and political maneuvers, other rogue countries, such as North Korea and Iran, will sense that now is the time to press their various foreign policy and security agendas. The United States faces the possibility of becoming again what President Nixon called "a pitiful, helpless giant" in face of the forces arrayed against us. Maybe the Democratic Party will surprise us by showing a rare degree of bipartisan statesmanship in time of war, but I would not bet on it.
James S. Robbins is author of "Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point", and is currently writing a book on the Tet Offensive.
By James S. Robbins
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online