Kerry's Words Betray Democrats' Attitudes

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You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.

Those two sentences, spoken by John Kerry last week, tell a lot about the attitudes of many–not all, but many–Democrats who supported him for president in 2004 and, as this is written, are looking forward to Democratic victories this week. One thing they tell us is that Kerry's mind-set still is back in the Vietnam era. The statement today is literally untrue: No one is "stuck in Iraq" unless he or she volunteers for the military, and the educational levels of our military personnel are higher than those of civilians in the same age cohort. Kerry is evidently thinking back to the late 1960s, when there was a military draft, and someone who dropped out of college could find himself "stuck" in Vietnam.

Kerry's bizarre initial refusal to apologize and his defenders' assertion that he was somehow trying to make a joke about George W. Bush's stupidity (even though Kerry's grades at Yale were slightly lower than Bush's) are not wholly out of line with previous statements by him and other Democrats characterizing American troops as perpetrators rather than heroes. There is Kerry's 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his December 2005 statement that GIs were "terrorizing" women and children. There was Sen. Dick Durbin's comparison of American troops to Nazis and the gulag and Edward Kennedy's overstatement that Abu Ghraib under "new management" was somehow as bad as when Saddam Hussein had prisoners tortured and murdered there. Behind all these statements is an unspoken assumption that American service members are stupid, incompetent, and vicious–or, at best, victims of Bush's allegedly rotten economy.

It's unusual in American history for a conflict to be seen by a substantial part of our political class through the lens of an earlier war. Yet many Democrats view Iraq through the lens of Vietnam–or their version of it. Now, as then, they want to see America withdraw even if that means defeat. Yet Iraq is plainly not Vietnam. There were more than 20 times more American deaths in Vietnam. And withdrawal from Iraq would be vastly more dangerous than withdrawal from Vietnam turned out to be.

To be sure, our withdrawal from Vietnam was bad for the Vietnamese. There was, contrary to Kerry's predictions at the time, a bloodbath, and the Vietnamese lived under a vicious communist dictatorship. But the dominoes did not fall beyond Indochina because, unnoticed by war backers and opponents, noncommunist east Asian states–South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia–were launching a free-market economic boom. The Vietnam War gave them time to do so. In time, these countries also developed rule of law and democratic representative government. They sold us toys and T-shirts and now sell us TiVos and DVDs.

Iraq is not in such a good neighborhood. Nearby are Iran, the leading supporter of international terrorism, busy developing nuclear weapons; Syria, headquarters of many terrorist groups; and Saudi Arabia, where an autocracy is using petrodollars to fund Islamofascism around the world. Premature withdrawal from Iraq would give terrorists more space to plot and prepare attacks on us beyond Iraq and the exhilaration Osama bin Laden seeks from a visible defeat of the United States. It would leave unprotected the brave Iraqis who risked death to vote in three elections and hold up their purple fingers with pride.

About all this, John Kerry, to judge from his changing positions on Iraq over time, doesn't seem to much care. Rather, he seems, as he did in the 1970s, to be more interested in establishing who our heroes should be. They should not be our military service members–the hordes of Genghis Khan in 1971, the losers and dropouts in his statement last week. They should be the antiwar protesters, the professors, and intellectuals, the sophisticated elites who know better than ordinary Americans and certainly better than service members what's in our best interests; who believe that fighting those who would attempt to destroy us only makes them madder and that if we leave them alone we can come home to America and be undisturbed.

They turned out not to do irretrievable damage to us when they got us to leave Vietnam. Will we be so lucky if they get us to leave Iraq too soon?