Democratic Presidential Debate

Democratic Presidential Debate: Lieberman, Kerry slam Dean

In the Democratic debate yesterday, Sen. Joe Lieberman slammed Howard Dean for saying that the capture of Saddam Hussein had made America no safer: “I don’t know how anybody could say that we’re not safer with a homicidal maniac, a brutal dictator, an enemy of the United States, a supporter of terrorism, a murderer of hundreds of thousands of his own people … in prison instead of in power.

This statement is pure demagoguery. Actually, none of the attributes given to Saddam by Lieberman implies that Saddam was able or seeking to harm the US directly. He was closely allied with the US in the 1980s, and most of those things could have been said about him then, too. By 2003, he had no weapons of mass destruction, nor any serious programs, and had not had since the early 1990s. There has been no proven link between Saddam and terrorist actions against the US, and the US State Department did not even list Iraq as a major supporter of terrorism in recent years. I have never been able to understand how anyone thought Saddam, the clearly addled leader of a small, weak, battered third world country, who did not even have the support of his own people, posed an active threat to the world’s sole remaining superpower. The US even used to bomb Iraq at will, while the Baath was in power, and did so repeatedly. If Saddam was a threat to us, then so is the Congo (and the Kabilas have not been nice rulers, either).

In addition, there is another way in which Dean’s statement can logically be true without it implying what Lieberman took it to imply. If the main threat to the US comes from al-Qaeda, and Iraq was merely a secondary nuisance, then it was madness to spend $166 billion on Iraq and tie up half our active military there, instead of going after al-Qaeda in a big way and seeking to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan (on which relatively paltry sums have been spent). If the main threat is from al-Qaeda, then the Iraq war was a detour that did not substantially increase the safety of Americans.

Leaving Bin Laden at large and virtually ignoring Afghanistan has allowed a Taliban resurgence, and has allowed major terrorist attacks in Bali, Mombasa, Casablanca, Riyadh, Istanbul and so on. These were attacks on US allies and detracted from the safety of us all.

Dean was also attacked (by Kerry, I think) for saying that even Osamah Bin Laden deserves a fair trial if he is caught. I don’t see why that is controversial. George W. Bush has said that even Saddam should receive a fair trial. And, isn’t the plan that the al-Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo will be tried by military courts? Wouldn’t the same apply to Bin Laden if captured? What is the difference between Bush and Dean on this issue?

We can’t be sure who the Democratic standard bearer will be in November, but it may be Dean. If it is Dean, he will face an uphill battle. But the Iraq situation could go very bad by next fall, and if it does, Dean could look attractive to voters. Even then it will be a very close race. The Democratic contenders are crazy to try to wound a man who might turn out to be their party’s leader. They clearly want to knock him out of the race; but if they fail, they will only have hurt their own party. You get to be a respected member of a party by agreeing to support its candidate, whoever that turns out to be. If you don’t like the candidate you can refuse to vote, or you can resign from the party. But you can’t in good conscience make a bid to lead the party while making it clear that some of its other potential leaders are completely unacceptable to you if chosen by the party faithful. I think Lieberman and Kerry have come close to such bad faith with their own party.

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