Not surprisingly, Cohen traces the "peace at any price" philosophy to the 1968 presidential candidacy of Eugene McCarthy and his opposition to the Vietnam War:
McCarthy didn't end the war, but he ended Johnson's political career and in the process heralded the shift of the Democratic Party from Cold War hawks to anti-war doves. By creating a political opportunity for Democrats, opposed to the war in Vietnam, to directly engage in the electoral process McCarthy helped change the way that all political leaders -- Democrats and Republicans -- talk about national security policy. No longer could national Democrats ignore liberals skeptical of American power; and Republicans were given a renewed opportunity to cast Democrats as a party beholden to their anti-war base. Quite simply, McCarthy's quixotic presidential bid is the gift that keeps on giving.In actuality, the news media in general, and Walter Cronkite in particular, were serial liars about the war, but not to be exposed for another two decades. The Tet Offensive was a military disaster for the Viet Cong, but Cronkite and friends portrayed it as the opposite.
Eugene McCarthy was perhaps the single unlikeliest person to launch an insurgent presidential campaign, topple an incumbent president, and spark a year of cataclysmic political change. Aloof, haughty, and frankly a bit lazy, McCarthy was given little chance of having a political impact when he announced his candidacy. He would be, said his fellow Minnesotan and Agriculture Secretary Orville Freeman, a "small footnote" to history.
Two events would ensure that McCarthy's run would be far more than that. First the Tet Offensive on Jan. 30, 1968 -- ironically and prophetically the same day Robert F. Kennedy announced he would not challenge the president and would acquiesce to his re-nomination. After months of being told that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was visible in Vietnam, the surprise Tet attack, which struck at every provincial capital in the country as well as the U.S. embassy in Saigon, shattered the illusion of progress. In the process it exposed Johnson and the members of his administration as serial liars about the war.
Lyndon Johnson botched the conduct of the war, but he was not nearly the liar that Cronkite was, or even, for that matter, that McCarthy was:
Tet set the stage, but it was the "Clean for Gene," anti-war activists that sealed the deal. Trudging through the snows of New Hampshire for the country's first presidential primary, McCarthy's army of well-scrubbed volunteers (no beards or long hair for this crew) spoke to two-thirds of all New Hampshire Democrats in just a six-week period. They were aided by a candidate who downplayed his anti-war views and depicted his candidacy as an opportunity to send a message to Johnson. It didn't much matter that some voters thought they were voting for the notorious former Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy or were angry at LBJ for not prosecuting the war in Vietnam more aggressively; yet McCarthy's strategy worked beautifully. Even though he lost the final vote, McCarthy's 42 percent showing shocked the political world, brought Bobby back into the race, and ushered Johnson out less than three weeks later. This wholly unexpected turn of events earned McCarthy something far larger than a footnote in the history books.In other words, McCarthy lied about his opposition to the war, presumably because he knew the war if not the conduct thereof was supported by the vast majority of Americans, to get more votes. Not exactly a way to get an honest mandate:
Kennedy attacked the war in Vietnam with great and laudable venom; but McCarthy became the first presidential candidate to take on the very conceits of American foreign policy. In perhaps his best speech of the campaign, at San Francisco's Cow Palace in May 1968, McCarthy aimed his verbal assaults at the assumptions underpinning the bipartisan consensus that had shaped America's view of the world since the dawn of the Cold War.So, in other words, McCarthy sought to weaken the United States. He ran for President of the United States in order to weaken the United States. This much he admitted.
"Involvement in Vietnam," McCarthy said, "was no accident. It did not happen overnight. It was a direct result of America's conception of itself as the world's judge and the world's policeman." He ridiculed the beliefs held dear by both Humphrey and Kennedy: "America's moral mission in the world; the great threat from China; the theory of monolithic Communist conspiracy; the susceptibility of political problems to military solutions; the duty to impose American idealism upon foreign cultures" calling them "myths and misconceptions, so damaging in their consequences."
McCarthy was attacking the very heart of American global power -- its over-ambition, its pretensions of global leadership, and its hyper-inflated view of American strength, interests, and capabilities. On the campaign trail, he spoke of recognizing Communist China; he called the Cold War "a concept . . . which has outlived its usefulness," and he even took on the "huge, powerful, and somewhat autonomous military establishment whose influence reaches into almost every aspect of our national life."
This is flat-out despicable. The President of the United States has the legal and moral obligation to protect the people of the United States. It is not his job to "bring balance to the Force" or to "bring balance to the International Order" or to right wrongs across the globe, unless those wrongs were not committed by the United States. His job is to protect the people of the United States. Period.
If that means aiding a corrupt, murderous government in Saigon that supports the US to keep out of power an even more murderous, corrupt government in Hanoi that practices an evil philosophy whose goal is to destroy freedom across the globe, you do it.
If it means aiding corrupt bandits in Nicaragua to fight an even more corrupt and murderous government that wants to provide air bases for Soviet nuclear bombers, you do it.
If it means invading a Middle Eastern country to topple a dictator who had declared war on the US himself, who wanted to strangle the US by limiting oil supplies and who supported every single terrorist group in the Middle East, many of whom had already attacked American interests, you do it.
If the people overseas don't like it, f*ck 'em. It's not the job of POTUS to protect them. It's the job of POTUS to protect us. If POTUS won't do it, no one else will.
(And let's take Cohen to task here for the line, "McCarthy was attacking the very heart of American global power -- its over-ambition, its pretensions of global leadership, and its hyper-inflated view of American strength, interests, and capabilities." Cohen seems to be accepting "its over-ambition, its pretensions of global leadership, and its hyper-inflated view of American strength, interests, and capabilities" as fact. You can tell whose side he's on here.)
Although the hawks won the battle in 1968, they would in short order lose the war, as a new generation of Democrats inspired by the campaign -- and its model of grass-roots anti-war activism -- would re-shape the party's views on foreign policy. In 1972, they nominated the dovish McGovern, who was as suspicious of American power as McCarthy. In 1977, a Democratic president -- Jimmy Carter -- focused on human rights as an overarching national security priority would take office; in the nearly two decades that followed the doves would maintain a tight hold on the foreign policy direction of the party, opposing the arms build up of the 1980s and the proxy wars fought by the Reagan administration in Central America. Their influence was so pervasive that the party's remaining hawkish wing would abandon the Democrats for Reagan's GOP.As if we actually should apologize to perfidious Pakistan. As if the far left should have a voice in government policy on defense and national security.
That direction would begin to be reversed in the early 1990s by centrist Democrats who believed that the party had veered too far to the left on national security; but the anti-war wing of the party would remain a powerful force, providing a boost to the 2007 candidacy of Barack Obama -- who, unlike his opponent in the primaries, Hillary Clinton, opposed the Iraq War.
With this political shift by national Democrats, the foreign policy divide that appeared in the late 1960s has oddly grown wider over the years. The liberal wing of the party still views Democratic elites and party leaders who supported the war in Iraq with contempt and suspicion (not unrightfully so). For many, it was the ultimate betrayal of the movement that emerged out of the tumult of 1968 and re-opened a wound first gashed by McCarthy in that Senate Caucus Room, 44 years ago. To this day, Democrats continue to be a party defined at its grassroots by reluctance to use military force, support for multilateral institutions, and opposition to the more aggressive elements of the war on terror. There is perhaps no policy issue where the divide between party and president is more acute -- from civil liberties to the war in Afghanistan.
Of course, from a political perspective, foreign policy and national security have traditionally been the one area of public policy where national Democrats are far more responsive to potential brickbats from Republicans than their own followers. Indeed, the foreign policy shift that began in 1968 has consistently provided a political opening of its own for Republicans. It became an opportunity to tar Democrats with the broad brush of weakness and fecklessness on national security (a recurrent GOP political attack since the "Who Lost China" debate of the 1950s). This week came word that the Obama administration is reluctant to apologize for a recent cross-border raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, for fear of being portrayed by Republican presidential contenders as soft.
These days there is not much to differentiate the political parties, except for environmentalism (which has become a malevolent force in left-wing circles) and security. The Democrats actually have some good policies domestically and where they don't they still often make good points.
But on security -- defense, foreign policy and crime -- the national Democrats are dominated by a left wing whose views are repugnant, abhorrent and arguably treasonous. They are so bad on these issues that whatever else the Republicans get wrong -- and they get a lot of issues wrong -- there is simply no alternative to their staying in power nationally to keep the Dems from getting control over defense and foreign policy.
The Dems have been wrong on just about every major national security issue since 1979. They default to a position of national weakness (nuclear freeze, no missile defense, etc.) We are still cleaning up from Jimmy Carter's foreign policy folly. If the Iranian mullahs get the bomb and nuke someone with it, send a thank you note to Jimmah. And we likely will be cleaning up from Obama's many, many defense miscues for decades.
And it all traces back to the execrable Eugene McCarthy. Who lied about his philosophy to get votes. Because he knew that the vast majority of the American people would find his views disgusting.
Consider what would have happened in history if McCarthy and his ilk had been in charge.
After the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, the third disastrous defeat in a row for Roman arms, Rome was left with no army. The citizenry was in a panic. Hannibal sent peace envoys to Rome. The Senate would not see them. Peace was never mentioned. There was no "peace party." No questions of "why do the Carthaginians hate us?" No statements of "Peace with honor." It was the same for Rome's allies; the Roman federation in central and northern Italy held firm. The Senate just raised another army. And another. And another. And they kept raising armies until Hannibal and the Carthaginian government dominated by his family were forced to surrender.
Compare Rome's response to Cannae to ours after September 11, when aftwer 3,000 Americans were murdered in cold blood, many on the left and in the media asked "Why does al Qaida hate us?" -- as if it mattered -- and Representative Barbara Lee actually voted against the authorization to use force in Afghanistan.
If McCarthy had been running Rome, it would have stayed a tiny village on the Tiber, and we'd all be sacrificing our children to Baal-Hammon and trying to figure out what a vowel was.
If McCarthy had been POTUS in World War II, Europe would be speaking German, we might be as well, and the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" featuring slavery and forced prostitution would be alive and well today.
But Eugene McCarthy and his ilk could feel morally superior to everyone else, everyone they were hurting, and isn't that what's important?
As a philosophy, pacifism is morally bankrupt. National weakness is simply a policy for national suicide.
We need two political parties in this country, but as long as one party advocates a policy of national suicide as Eugene McCarthy did, that party must be kept from power until it specifically rejects that policy and backs up words of national strength with concrete actions.