Have you noticed that the Democratic Party has no foreign policy? Its leaders neither support nor oppose a pre-emptive military invasion of Iraq. On the one hand, Tom Daschle agreed to schedule a vote probably authorizing an unlimited use of force (think Gulf of Tonkin) for which, he said, "I'm quite sure that the administration will enjoy pretty broad support." On the other hand, no Democratic leader other than Joe Lieberman has said that America should attack Iraq. Instead, most Democrats echo Daschle's accurate but meaningless generalizations: "We need to be very wary about going to war.... We shouldn't be out there as having concluded that that's the only way to get this job done."
Democrats want the vote on Iraq to be soon, so that they will still have time to make domestic issues salient by November. They seem to be saying, "We don't want to attack Iraq. We don't want to oppose a popular president. We do want to win the midterm elections. So let's roll over for Bush on Iraq so the voters will think the only difference between Democrats and Republicans is in their proposed annual deductibles for prescription drug coverage." That leaves the nation's biggest party with no foreign policy.
When the Democrats demanded not long ago that President George W. Bush make his case to Congress, I thought to myself: Good. A great debate on the stage that saw Webster challenge Calhoun. Then, as now, from slavery and tariffs to trigger locks and oil exploration, our representatives argue the issues of the day before they act in our name. We call this democracy. Surely, war is worth debating. Surely, a $200 billion military action involving up to 150,000 American soldiers is an issue on which the American people deserve a debate. The "opposition party" is devoid of opposition.
After Bush privately shared with Congressional leaders on Sept. 6 his reasons for regime change, Daschle said the meeting was "helpful" but not "conclusive." The Democrats chose to be inquisitive spectators: "We were in a position to ask a lot of good questions." After Bush addressed the United Nations Sept. 12, Daschle called it "a strong speech" before adding, "There are a number of questions that remain." Those questions are, without a doubt, important, but they are no substitute for genuine opposition. After Bush accepted the Democrats' demand for a debate, the opposition never showed up to fight.
Since a Congressional resolution is weeks away, there is time for the Democratic party to renew its purpose. It's not too late to ditch the politics of ambiguity and adopt an actual position, but they need more than "questions." When Bush has a defined policy (regime change) and when the Democrats merely have questions, that's an interview, not a debate. The White House has outlined the reasons for pre-emptive action all year. Rarely have the nation's leading Democrats responded with anything but "important questions." The party of Jefferson and Jackson looks like the party of Barbara Walters.
I should clarify here that my criticism is only of Democratic politicians. Democratic party members are discussing Iraq and arguing with each other all around the country, at family dinner tables and in college commons rooms. Here at Duke, opposition to the war is often heartfelt and eloquently articulated. (Sometimes, it is just heartfelt.) The rank and file are willing to oppose the President because his high job approval ratings do not deter them from voicing their opinions.
When Congress votes on an Iraq resolution, most Democrats (including all senators who are potential 2004 presidential candidates) will support the use of force. Perhaps, some Democrats (like Joe Lieberman) truly believe that war with Iraq is necessary. Perhaps, some (like Paul Wellstone) not only oppose war but will also vote accordingly in Congress. The rest are cowards. Full of ambiguity, their support will be what their opposition has been: Minimal. The nation's largest political party is sitting on the fence while America makes its most momentous foreign policy decision since Vietnam. The same Democrats who overwhelmingly voted not to fight the Gulf War are, today, as afraid to challenge Bush as they were in 1991 afraid to challenge Saddam Hussein. They are weak leaders who speak softly and carry a rubber stamp. They neither agree with the president nor oppose him. They only have questions.
Justin Walker is a Trinity junior.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.