The Campaign of Hate and Fear
Some of my fellow Democrats are unpatriotic.
BY ORSON SCOTT CARD
Tuesday, December 16, 2003 12:01 a.m. EST
In one of Patrick O'Brian's novels about the British navy during the Napoleonic wars, he dismisses a particularly foolish politician by saying that his political platform was "death to the Whigs." Watching the primary campaigns among this year's pathetic crop of Democratic candidates, I can't help but think that their campaigns would be vastly improved if they would only rise to the level of "Death to the Republicans."
Instead, their platforms range from Howard Dean's "Bush is the devil" to everybody else's "I'll make you rich, and Bush is quite similar to the devil." Since President Bush is quite plainly not the devil, one wonders why anyone in the Democratic Party thinks this ploy will play with the general public.
There are Democrats, like me, who think it will not play, and should not play, and who are waiting in the wings until after the coming electoral debacle in order to try to remake the party into something more resembling America.
But then I watch the steady campaign of the national news media to try to win this for the Democrats, and I wonder. Could this insane, self-destructive, extremist-dominated party actually win the presidency? It might--because the media are trying as hard as they can to pound home the message that the Bush presidency is a failure--even though by every rational measure it is not.
And the most vile part of this campaign against Mr. Bush is that the terrorist war is being used as a tool to try to defeat him--which means that if Mr. Bush does not win, we will certainly lose the war. Indeed, the anti-Bush campaign threatens to undermine our war effort, give encouragement to our enemies, and cost American lives during the long year of campaigning that lies ahead of us.
Osama bin Laden's military strategy is: If you make a war cost enough, Americans will give up and go home. Now, bin Laden isn't actually all that bright; his campaign to make us go home is in fact what brought us into Afghanistan and Iraq. But he's still telling his followers: Keep killing Americans and eventually, antigovernment factions within the United States will choose to give up the struggle.
It's what happened in Somalia, isn't it? And it's what happened in Vietnam, too.
Reuters recently ran a feature that trumpeted the "fact" that U.S. casualties in Iraq have now surpassed U.S. casualties in the first three years of the Vietnam War. Never mind that this is a specious distortion of the facts, which depends on the ignorance of American readers. The fact is that during the first three years of the war in Vietnam, dating from the official "beginning" of the war in 1961, American casualties were low because (a) we had fewer than 20,000 soldiers there, (b) most of them were advisers, deliberately trying to avoid a direct combat role, (c) our few combat troops were special forces, who generally get to pick and choose the time and place of their combat, and (d) because our presence was so much smaller, there were fewer American targets than in Iraq today.
Compare our casualties in Iraq with our casualties in Vietnam when we had a comparable number of troops, and by every rational measure--casualties per thousand troops, casualties per year, or absolute number of casualties--you'll find that the Iraq campaign is far, far less costly than Vietnam. But the media want Americans to think that Iraq is like Vietnam--or rather, that Iraq is like the story that the Left likes to tell about Vietnam.
Vietnam was a quagmire only because we fought it that way. If we had closed North Vietnam's ports and carried the war to the enemy, victory could have been relatively quick. However, the risk of Chinese involvement was too great. Memories of Korea were fresh in everyone's minds, and so Vietnam was fought in such a way as to avoid "another Korea." That's why Vietnam became, well, Vietnam.
But Iraq is not Vietnam. Nor is the Iraq campaign even the whole war. Of course there's still fighting going on. Our war is against terrorist-sponsoring states, and just because we toppled the governments of two of them doesn't mean that the others aren't still sponsoring terrorism. Also, there is a substantial region in Iraq where Saddam's forces are still finding support for a diehard guerrilla campaign.
In other words, the Iraq campaign isn't over--and President Bush has explicitly said so all along. So the continuation of combat and casualties isn't a "failure" or a "quagmire," it's a "war." And during a war, patriotic Americans don't blame the deaths on our government. We blame them on the enemy that persists in trying to kill our soldiers.
Am I saying that critics of the war aren't patriotic?
Not at all--I'm a critic of some aspects of the war. What I'm saying is that those who try to paint the bleakest, most anti-American, and most anti-Bush picture of the war, whose purpose is not criticism but deception in order to gain temporary political advantage, those people are indeed not patriotic. They have placed their own or their party's political gain ahead of the national struggle to destroy the power base of the terrorists who attacked Americans abroad and on American soil.
Patriots place their loyalty to their country in time of war ahead of their personal and party ambitions. And they can wrap themselves in the flag and say they "support our troops" all they like--but it doesn't change the fact that their program is to promote our defeat at the hands of our enemies for their temporary political advantage.
Think what it will mean if we elect a Democratic candidate who has committed himself to an antiwar posture in order to get his party's nomination.
Our enemies will be certain that they are winning the war on the battleground that matters--American public opinion. So they will continue to kill Americans wherever and whenever they can, because it works.
Our soldiers will lose heart, because they will know that their commander in chief is a man who is not committed to winning the war they have risked death in order to fight. When the commander in chief is willing to call victory defeat in order to win an election, his soldiers can only assume that their lives will be thrown away for nothing. That's when an army, filled with despair, becomes beatable even by inferior forces.
When did we lose the Vietnam War? Not in 1968, when we held an election that hinged on the war. None of the three candidates (Humphrey, Nixon, Wallace) were committed to unilateral withdrawal. Not during Nixon's "Vietnamization" program, in which more and more of the war effort was turned over to Vietnamese troops. In fact, Vietnamization, by all measures I know about, worked.
We lost the war when the Democrat-controlled Congress specifically banned all military aid to South Vietnam, and a beleaguered Republican president signed it into law. With Russia and China massively supplying North Vietnam, and Saigon forced to buy pathetic quantities of ammunition and spare parts on the open market because America had cut off all aid, the imbalance doomed them, and they knew it.
The South Vietnamese people were subjected to a murderous totalitarian government (and the Hmong people of the Vietnamese mountains were victims of near-genocide) because the U.S. Congress deliberately cut off military aid--even after almost all our soldiers were home and the Vietnamese were doing the fighting themselves.
That wasn't about "peace," that was about political posturing and an indecent lack of honor. Is that where we're headed again?
This time an enemy attacked civilian targets on our soil. The enemy--a conspiracy of terrorists sponsored by a dozen or so nations and unable to function without their aid--was hard to attack directly; so the only feasible strategy was to remove, by force if necessary, the governments that sheltered and sponsored terrorism.
I would not have chosen Afghanistan and Iraq to start with; Syria, Iran, Sudan and Libya were much more culpable and militarily more important to neutralize as sponsors of terror. (They say that Libya and Sudan have changed their tune lately, but I have my doubts.)
But once we chose Afghanistan and Iraq, once we began a serious campaign, we must continue the war until we achieve our objective, which is to remove all the governments that sponsor terror, or convince the remaining sponsors of terror to absolutely, thoroughly, and completely reverse their policy and actively seek out and destroy all terrorists that once had safe harbor within their borders. Anything less, and all our effort--all those American lives--were wasted.
And in the midst of this global struggle, when both parties should have united, disagreeing at times about methods and priorities, but never about the steadfast will of the American people to see the war through to a successful conclusion, we find that the candidates of the party out of power are attacking the president for fighting the war at all, and are calling the war itself a "failure" even though there is no rational measure by which it can be said to have failed--especially since we're still fighting it.
In a war, the enemy probes for weaknesses, and always finds some. When they find a weakness in your positions, they teach you where it is by attacking there; then you learn, and strengthen that point or avoid that mistake. Meanwhile, you constantly probe the enemy for weakness. The result is that even when you are overwhelmingly victorious, the enemy still finds ways to inflict damage along the way.
The goal of our troops in Iraq is not to protect themselves so completely that none of our soldiers die. The goal of our troops is to destroy the enemy, some of whom you do not find except when they emerge to attack our forces and, yes, sometimes inflict casualties.
Our national media are covering this war as if we were "losing the peace"--even though we are not at peace and we are not losing. Why are they doing this? Because they are desperate to spin the world situation in such a way as to bring down President Bush.
It's not just the war, of course. Notice that even though our recent recession began under President Clinton, the media invariably refer to it as if Mr. Bush had caused it; and even though by every measure, the recession is over, they still cover it as if the American economy were in desperate shape.
This is the same trick they played on the first President Bush, for his recession was also over before the election--but the media worked very hard to conceal it from the American public. They did it as they're doing it now, with yes-but coverage: Yes, the economy is growing again, but there aren't any new jobs. Yes, there are new jobs now, but they're not good jobs.
And that's how they're covering the war. Yes, the Taliban were toppled, but there are still guerrillas fighting against us in various regions of Afghanistan. (As if anyone ever expected anything else.) Yes, Saddam was driven out of power incredibly quickly and with scant loss of life on either side, but our forces were not adequately prepared to do all the nonmilitary jobs that devolved on them as an occupying army.
Ultimately, the outcome of this war is going to depend more on the American people than anything that happens on the battlefield. Are we going to be suckered again the way we were in 1992, when we allowed ourselves to be deceived about our own recent history and current events?
We are being lied to and "spun," and not in a trivial way. The kind of dishonest vitriolic hate campaign that in 2000 was conducted only before black audiences is now being played on the national stage; and the national media, instead of holding the liars' and haters' feet to the fire (as they do when the liars and haters are Republicans or conservatives), are cooperating in building up a false image of a failing economy and a lost war, when the truth is more nearly the exact opposite.
And in all the campaign rhetoric, I keep looking, as a Democrat, for a single candidate who is actually offering a significant improvement over the Republican policies that in fact don't work, while supporting or improving upon the American policies that will help make us and our children secure against terrorists.
We have enemies that have earned our hatred, and whom we should fear. They are fanatical terrorists who seek opportunities to kill American civilians here and Israeli civilians in Israel. But right now, our national media and the Democratic Party are trying to get us to believe that the people we should hate and fear are George W. Bush and the Republicans.
I can think of many, many reasons why the Republicans should not control both houses of Congress and the White House. But right now, if the alternative is the Democratic Party as led in Congress and as exemplified by the current candidates for the Democratic nomination, then I can't be the only Democrat who will, with great reluctance, vote not just for George W. Bush, but also for every other candidate of the only party that seems committed to fighting abroad to destroy the enemies that seek to kill us and our friends at home.
And if we elect a government that subverts or weakens or ends our war against terrorism, we can count on this: We will soon face enemies that will make 9/11 look like stubbing our toe, and they will attack us with the confidence and determination that come from knowing that we don't have the will to sustain a war all the way to the end.Mr. Card is a science fiction writer. This article first appeared in the Rhinoceros Times of Greensboro, N.C.