Thursday, May 27, 2004

Go On, Howard, Say It

Matthew Yglesias has a nice piece on Howard Dean and a retrospective on his claim that the capture of Saddam Hussein didn’t make America safer. (Wow, we’re already having wistful recollections of events from six months ago? Time flies.)

Remember Howard Dean? Early last December he was riding high. Having been dismissed early in the campaign by even his fans as a hopeless cause, he’d managed to parlay a wave of anti-Bush sentiment and novel Internet organizing into front-runner status for the Democratic nomination. Still, two interconnected questions remained. First, could he beat George W. Bush? And second, did he have what it takes to run a campaign likely to focus on foreign-policy questions?

On December 15, 2003, Dean had a chance to dispel those doubts. His strong showing had allowed the campaign to attract interest from many of the Democratic Party’s foreign-policy heavies, who’d busied themselves working with Dean’s staff to compose an address underlining the candidate’s basically centrist, mainstream convictions. His support for the Gulf War and those in Kosovo and Afghanistan, along with his advocacy of a tough stance on North Korea, were to be on display. The public would see a new Dean (or, rather, a new side of the same Dean who’d been there all along) — the sensible, moderate Dean the voters of Vermont had known for years. The speech, delivered to the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, was his shot at the big time. And he blew it.

Not with anything in the carefully prepared text but with an ad-libbed piece of red meat thrown to his angry base. “The capture of Saddam [Hussein],” Dean said, “has not made America safer.”

Good and decent people everywhere were outraged. Joe Lieberman said Dean had crawled into a “spider hole of denial.” John Kerry called the remark “more proof that all the advisers in the world can’t give Howard Dean the military and foreign-policy experience, leadership skills, or diplomatic temperament necessary to lead this country through dangerous times.” Dick Gephardt was more restrained, merely accusing Dean of “playing politics with foreign policy.”

And those were the Democrats. The Republican National Committee’s Ed Gillespie said, “Those who say these things would return us to a weak and indecisive foreign policy that would only embolden those who seek to do us harm,” all but accusing Dean of being in league with the terrorists. A small number of voices in the media stood up for Dean, but who were we to contend with the awesome national-security knowledge of Sam Donaldson and Chris Matthews? Some, like The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait, conceded that on “a narrow, technical level” it was perfectly true that Hussein’s capture did not make us safer. Still, he was upset. The remark, Chait wrote, “demonstrates once again Dean’s incurable habit of handing Karl Rove the rope he’d use to hang Dean if nominated.” Besides which, he continued, while Americans who live in America — that’s most of us! — might not have been made safer, there are “many Americans in Iraq who are safer now that Saddam’s out of his hole.”

Read the rest of it here in The American Prospect. And for those of us who agreed with Dr. Dean and took the flak for it, we can now, in unison, nod sagely and say sadly We told you so. There’s nothing smug about being right about increased war and death.