Thursday, January 18, 2007

Always The Bridesmaid...

First Sen. Chris Dodd, now running for president, announced the event on the Don Imus show; then he gave several interviews in Washington DC, the senator’s theatre of operation, where the anti-President George Bush war room is located; then he went on the stump in Iowa and South Carolina where, along with congressional pal Sen. Joe Biden, he called upon the citizens of that great state to remove the confederate flag, now on display within sight of the capital building, to a museum of their choosing, where it belongs; then he went back to base camp in Washington DC to hobble the efforts of the president to raise troop levels in Iraq, though he has not yet demanded that Bush be removed to a museum; and finally – ta’da, a flourish of trumpets please! – the tribunes of the people have reported that Dodd will on Friday, Jan. 18 – mark it on your calendars -- return to his home state to tell the good old boys that he is running for president. A little late, grumbled the Hartford Courant’s chief political writer, David Lightman.

Ah Connecticut -- always the bridesmaid, never the bride – why do you put up with these flirtatious smiles and come hither looks, when you know Dodd has pledged his troth to others, several others?

Dodd unofficially opened his campaign on October 16, when he gave a speech, “Moral Authority in the 21st Century: Lessons from Nuremberg,” to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, the village that helped raise Sen. Hillary Clinton to be a candidate for president.

The speech is noteworthy, among other reasons, because it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding on Dodd’s part of the uses of war, a topic that future commanders-in-chief should be well versed in.

Dodd conflates war and peace in his speech and seems unable to grasp the notion that wars successfully prosecuted by virtuous nations historically have been followed by long stretches of peace and prosperity.

The American Revolution, prosecuted successfully by George Washington -- whose military success was at least as important to the new nation as his political prowess -- was followed by a long stretch of internal peace, until the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumner. The founders of the American Republic proposed a novel answer to the first and most important of political questions: Who shall rule? But it was the war against Great Britain that decided the issue. Had Washington and his rag-tailed troops lost the war, all the blessings we now cherish – our form of government and our very freedom – would have been aborted in the womb. The same is true of the Civil War, which answered two questions: Lincoln’s question, “Can we remain permanently half free and half slave?” and the question of unity, “Are we one nation, indivisible?” These questions, both present in the blood stream of the American Republic at its bloody birth, were not settled by diplomats, congresses and presidents. The victors in two successfully prosecuted wars decided these issues.

With a curtsey to his father, Senator Tom Dodd, a fierce proponent of liberty and freedom and an ardent anti-communist, Dodd in his speech tied the “moral authority” exercised by the United States in the post war period to peacemakers whose feet were firmly planted on “the path of engagement and multilateralism” and who provided in Europe and Japan a “new hope for progress in impoverished nations, and a growing international acceptance for legal standards that recognize the inherent worth and rights of all human beings.”

All this is true. But Dodd pointedly does not acknowledge in his speech that the indispensable precondition of all the blessings that followed in the bloody wake of World War II was that the United States and its allies were the victors who shaped the peace that followed the war. The victors of that war and their allies imposed terms of peace on the vanquished. The United States forced democracy on Japan but were less successful in Germany, which was partitioned; the Soviets dictated the terms of peace in East Germany.

The point Dodd will not acknowledge is this: Who wins a war matters, because the victors in a war shape the peace that follows. The founders of the American Republic could not have negotiated a Bill of Rights with Britain had Washington been decisively defeated in battle. If the troops marshaled by General Eisenhower at D-Day had not prevailed over the Germans, no Nuremberg trial, celebrated by Dodd in his speech as a harbinger of peace and good will, would have followed the war. What is lost in a war cannot be recovered through diplomatic ventures.

It would be cheering to hear presidential candidate Dodd acknowledge this lesson of history in one of his future campaign speeches. But, of course, such an acknowledgement in present conditions might open what is in Connecticut amusingly called the "debate" on the Iraq war to a discussion of the consequences of victory and defeat, and there are some subjects prospective Democrat presidential candidates would like to smother in silence.
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