In Latino Debate, Democrats Convey Message of Weakness

Posted September 5, 2003 at 3:33pm

In their latest joint appearance last Thursday, not one Democratic presidential candidate said that America’s purpose in Iraq should be to “win,” “prevail,” establish a democracy — or even “persevere.”

The message the Democrats sent is that the best the United States can do is to turn responsibility for Iraq over to others — the United Nations, NATO, the Iraqis. Some candidates made clear the purpose was not to succeed, but to get out.

This could be a winning political strategy, given the reverses the Bush administration has suffered recently and the possibility that its policy could go badly wrong.

But on a number of other issues brought up in the New Mexico debate, the Democrats provided Bush with plenty of ammunition for the November election.

Attempting to appeal to Latino voters, not one of the Democrats made any reference to the need to beef up border security in the face of potential terrorism.

Some of them identified Osama bin Laden as a more formidable menace than Saddam Hussein, but excoriated Attorney General John Ashcroft’s efforts to keep the country safe from al Qaeda sleepers or infiltrators from abroad.

In addition, many of them condemned Bush for ignoring Latin America. Yet all except Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) declared opposition to free-trade agreements Bush is negotiating that will allow hemispheric countries to prosper.

Legitimately, the candidates called for more liberal immigration policies. But, by depriving Latin countries of the ability to sell their products in the United States, they will end up overwhelming the southern borders with illegal aliens seeking an escape from poverty.

On Iraq, the most left-wing of the nine contenders, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), minced no words: “It’s time to bring the United Nations in and get the U.S. out,” he declared to rousing applause.

That view matches rank-and-file voter sentiment, with polls indicating that more than 60 percent of Democrats favor U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) said the major U.S. challenge is to “extricate ourselves from Iraq, and I believe the first step is going to be to rebuild relationships with our allies.”

Frontrunner and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean — who was rarely challenged on his views, mainly by Lieberman — said “we need more troops. They’re going to be foreign troops, as they should have been in the first place, not American troops. Ours need to come home.”

The subtext of much of the Democratic commentary is that making nice with “allies” such as France and Germany — regardless of their terms — and turning responsibilities over to the United Nations would facilitate an American exit.

The Democrats all accused Bush — rightly enough — of failing to plan adequately for the Iraq war aftermath. But there was no evidence that any Democrat has a plan other than getting the United Nations to take over.

Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.), who has flipped from war supporter to harsh Bush critic, said “we cannot cut and run,” but he declared that Bush has been “a miserable failure” in Iraq.

He said the solution is to “work out a resolution” with nations including France, which has proved its major foreign policy purpose is to thwart the United States.

All this may work for Democrats if Bush’s Iraq policy turns into a disaster. But it will be an embarrassment if the present chaotic period is akin to the dark early months of the Civil War or World War II, before this country found a way to win.

In the meantime, the Democrats acted as though the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were but a convenient “excuse” by the Bush administration to impose a restrictive immigration policy, as opposed to a necessity, given the potential of new terrorism.

Almost comically, Dean denounced “racial profiling” against Arab-Americans, then went on to say there is no reason to restrict Latin immigration because “the last time I looked not one of the 19 hijackers was Latino.” They all were Arabs, of course.

Even Lieberman, who has proposed a sensible “earned legalization” program, said that “due process needs to be put into our immigration laws so that the Justice Department under John Ashcroft can’t again … arrest almost 800 undocumented immigrants and put them in jail without charges, without counsel and without notice to their families.”

Democrats will be in trouble if they continue vilifying Ashcroft as the chief demon of the war on terrorism, not Osama bin Laden.

And on trade, Lieberman correctly observed that if the United States requires poor countries to live up to U.S. labor and environmental standards to trade with the United States, it will cost thousands of U.S. jobs.

He charged that “the Bush recession will be followed by a Dean depression” after Dean said that would be his trade policy.

One Democrat after another said that the United States has to have a better policy toward Latin America, but declared opposition to a Free Trade Area of the Americas and a Central American Free Trade Agreement that would give Latin countries more access to U.S. markets.

The Democrats’ New Mexico audience seemed to appreciate what the candidates said, but if voters think about it awhile, they won’t.