TCS Daily

The Crucial Alliance

By Michael Totten - October 27, 2003 12:00 AM

On September 11, 2001, I forced myself to stop hating the president.


My complaints against George W. Bush were the usual ones. He lost the popular vote, he mangles the English language, he's incurious about the world, and he's just too conservative. Yet he's a bleeding heart liberal next to Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. He also stood between Osama bin Laden and the rest of us. We were suddenly at war, and Republicans weren't the enemy.


Most of us felt the same way. For a short little while, America was united. The country felt like a family.


Two years later Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle gets no more hugs from the president. A sense of normalcy is back, and we feel less terrorized. Though the 1990s are over and it's folly to try to return, that doesn't get in the way of our partisans.


"The Enemy Here Is George Bush"


Last month at a Democratic Party debate Howard Dean said "we need to remember that the enemy here is George Bush." This was during an argument with Dick Gephardt about Medicare. At the same time, the mullahs in Iran and the Stalinist tyrant in North Korea were firing up nuclear weapons programs. Al Qaeda threatens to use whatever nukes they can find to turn the United States into a "sea of deadly radiation." At a time like this, calling George Bush the enemy is more than a little ridiculous.


Though politics used to stop at the water's edge, foreign affairs is where the real fight is these days. In the heated days of the war in Iraq, the streets of urban America thronged with tens of thousands of activists, some opposed to regime-change and others supporting our troops.


Except for near the end of the Vietnam War, it wasn't always this way.


Throughout most of the 20th Century, the mainstream left and the mainstream right were in basic agreement about fascism and communism. Both were the enemy, and both were to be fought. So obvious were these evils that we allied ourselves with some sinister regimes along the way.


Liberals sided with communists against fascists. And conservatives sided with fascists against communists. This we did without apology. The Roosevelt administration reintroduced Joseph Stalin as heroic "Uncle Joe" in the Allied fight against Hitler. Ronald Reagan dubbed the genocidal but anti-communist Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt "a man of great personal integrity" who got "a bum rap on human rights."


The alliances were tactical, the propaganda calculated. It's instructive nevertheless. If liberals could team up with Stalin, of all people, working with George W. Bush against Middle Eastern tyrants should not be a problem. And putting aside partisanship should cut both ways: If Nixon and Reagan could prop up Latin American military regimes, surely the GOP can do business with Hillary Clinton.


The Crucial Alliance


It's a Democratic party cliché now that America needs allies in the Terror War. Of course this is true. We really do need the help of our friends, especially our allies in NATO. But the most crucial alliance of all is the one here at home. If Bush needs the support of Germany and France, he needs the support of the Democrats even more. We can hardly expect other nations to stand with us if we can't even stand with ourselves.


This isn't to say that the party out of power ought to be rubber-stampers. Excessive bipartisanship is the functional equivalent of a one-party state. What we need is an implicit understanding that despite our disagreements we are on the same side. Because we are on the same side. Murderous fanatics are trying to kill us. Save the talk of "enemies" and "evil" for them.


Dissent is the responsibility of the opposition. But this responsibility must be wielded responsibly. Those who argued that regime-change in Iraq would make us more vulnerable to terrorism were misguided, in my view, but were sincerely trying to help. The same goes for those who say we need to send in more troops. Some responsible critics supported the war, while others did not. What unites them is the hope that we'll win. That's the sort of opposition we need.


The Aussie Example


But the increasing polarization of late lays the groundwork for something dangerous. If you demonize your opponent, if you truly believe him venal and wicked and treacherous, the trust as the basis for civil society cracks. Terrorists can then pry open those cracks into chasms.



It happened last year in Australia. After the terror attack at a nightclub in Bali, disturbing letters appeared in the Melbourne Age.


"Prime Minister, I blame you. -- Judith Maher"


"We are paying in blood for John Howard's arse-licking, ignorance and xenophobic bigotry. -- Bob Ellis"


"I explicitly place the responsibility at the feet of Howard and Downer. They may as well have pushed the button themselves. -- Fraser Nock"



Four years ago during the war in Yugoslavia House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said "The bombing was a mistake." He demanded president Clinton negotiate a "diplomatic agreement in order to end this failed policy." The policy wasn't a failure. It just wasn't finished yet. Tom DeLay is not a pacifist. But he would have halted an unfinished war in its tracks and made it a failure on purpose, just to destroy a hated president.


Now that we have a new man in the White House, some Democrats have decided to behave the same way. Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) proposes an immediate US retreat from Iraq. Stabilizing and democratizing Iraq is far more important than the intervention in the Balkans. Fighting back in the Terror War is not optional, and most honest brokers will admit that Iraq is one lynchpin within that war. But that doesn't stop Dennis Kucinich. He'll let Iraq fall apart and grant a victory to terrorists as long as it helps take down president Bush.


More than 2,000 years ago in The Art of War Sun Tzu told how to defeat an enemy's leadership. "When he is united, divide him." The lesson here is reversible. We cannot let ourselves become divided. We cannot let the crucial alliance be shattered.


Michael J. Totten writes from Portland, Oregon. Visit his Web log at


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