Saturday, November 27, 2004

Richard Reeves: The Argument for Cutting and Running


Thu Nov 18, 8:00 PM ET

By Richard Reeves, The Boston Globe

NEW YORK -- This, I expect and others hope, is my last column on the specifics of the 2004 presidential election. After Election Day, I found my thoughts going back to something that happened during a panel discussion I moderated for The New York Observer in October. I mentioned then that I once asked a presidential candidate what was the worst part of running, and he said: "All the lying you have to do."

What do you mean? I asked. He answered: "You have to go to Michigan and lie about what you think about automobile emissions and air pollution. You have to go to New York and lie about what you really think of Israel and Ariel Sharon (news - web sites). You have to go to Miami and lie about your feelings about Cuba."

Kieran Mahoney, a very smart Republican consultant, took that up and said: "You were probably having dinner with a Democrat, because, frankly, the Democratic Party is out of step with the national electorate. More so than the Republicans. John Kerry (news - web sites) obfuscates, in my opinion, because if he were to tell the truth -- the unvarnished kind of liberal truth -- he would receive only the base Democratic vote, which would leave him 20 points short of being president."

He was on to something. Republicans do believe pollution laws are too restricting. They love Israel, or at least the idea of it. They hate and overrate Fidel Castro (news - web sites).

Perhaps that is why Senator Kerry had so much trouble talking about Vietnam and Iraq (news - web sites). Looking back, I think he might have been better off if he denounced the war in Iraq as national folly -- if that is what he believes, and I don't know if it is. He certainly would have been better off if he answered the know-nothing criticism of his opposition to the war in which he served bravely by saying he was right 30 years ago when he said sending troops into Vietnam was a mistake -- and he's still right.

Cut and run? Yeah, cut and run, just as President Reagan cut and ran in Lebanon a few weeks after more than 240 U.S. Marines were killed by a suicide bomber in Beirut. Those young men paid the ultimate price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time in someone else's civil war. My God, the lessons of Beirut terrify anyone who remembers or cares to think about them. We took that terrific hit one October morning in 1983 -- the explosion at the undefended Marine barracks was the largest non-nuclear explosion recorded -- and we did not know who did it or why.

Reagan had made a mistake, several of them, leading up to that disaster. We are repeating those mistakes in Iraq, basically taking sides in a civil war. That time, more than 20 years ago, American troops were indeed pelted with flowers and candy when they came as peacemakers -- and then came to be seen as occupiers.

The Israelis, led by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, did worse than we did in that war. They gained none of the central goals of their decision to invade in June of 1982. They lost more than 1,000 soldiers killed in action -- the United States' loss equivalent would have been 50,000 killed; they divided their own country and drained their treasury paying for an 18-year occupation.

It was all a mistake. So is Iraq, but again, I do not know if Kerry believes that. You have to take him at his word, but if you do, then you have to conclude there was no fundamental difference between him and President Bush (news - web sites). That's the way you lose elections.

Maybe the Democrat would have lost anyway if he had decided to truly challenge Bush on the flawed assumptions of the 2002 invasion that led us to Baghdad and Fallujah. Maybe he should have listened to cooler heads. This was said by our secretary of defense defending the decision not to go into Baghdad during the first Gulf War (news - web sites) in 1991:

"Once you get to Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime, a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that going to have if it's set up by the American military there? How long does the United States military have to stay there to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens once we leave?"

That secretary of defense was a former congressman from Wyoming named Dick Cheney (news - web sites). What will happen once we leave this time? The answer is probably that the same things will happen whether we leave now or in 18 years.


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