On Christmas Day, former U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern wrote a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times (and
probably many other papers) calling for an American surrender in Iraq. George McGovern has not been in the headlines for three decades, and his name consequently may be unfamiliar to many. But no one has had a greater or more baleful impact on the Democratic Party and its electoral fortunes than this progressive product of the South Dakota plains.
The leftward slide of the Democratic Party, which has made it an uncertain trumpet in matters of war and peace, may be said to have begun with the McGovern presidential campaign of 1972, whose slogan was "American come home" - as though America was the problem and not the aggression of the Communist bloc. The McGovern campaign drew in the rank and file of the anti-Vietnam Left, much like the anti-Cold War Henry Wallace Progressive Party campaign of 1948 and the Howard Dean anti-Iraq campaign of 2004.
McGovern himself was a veteran of the Wallace campaign and, virtually all the leaders of the anti-Iraq movement, including most of the Democratic Party leaders who supported it, are veterans of the anti-Vietnam campaign.
I have lived this history as both spectator and actor. My parents were Communists, and my first political march was a Communist Party May Day parade in 1948 supporting the presidential campaign of Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party against the Cold War - which meant against America's effort to contain Communism and prevent Stalin's regime from expanding its empire into Western Europe. Our chant was this: "One, two, three, four, we don't want another war/Five, six, seven, eight, win with Wallace in '48."
This campaign was the seed of the antiwar movement of Vietnam, and thus of the political Left's influence over the post-Vietnam foreign policy of the Democratic Party. The Wallace campaign marked an exodus of the anti-American Left from the Democratic Party; the movement that opposed America's war in Vietnam marked its return.
As a post-graduate student at Berkeley in the early Sixties, I was one of the organizers of the first demonstration against the war in Vietnam. It was 1962, and the organizers of this demonstration as of all the major anti-Vietnam demonstrations (and those against the Iraq war as well) were a Marxist and a leftist, respectively. The organizers of the movement against the war in Vietnam were activists who thought the Communists were liberating Vietnam in the same way Michael Moore thinks Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is liberating Iraq.
In 1968, Tom Hayden and the antiwar Left incited a riot at the Democratic Party convention which effectively ended the presidential hopes of the Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey. (Humphrey, who was Lyndon Johnson's vice president, was a supporter of the war.) This paved the way for George McGovern's failed presidential run against the war in 1972.
The following year, President Nixon signed a truce in Vietnam and withdrew American troops. His goal was "peace with honor," which meant denying a Communist victory in South Vietnam. The truce was an uneasy one depending on a credible American threat to resume hostilities if the Communists violated the truce.
Three years earlier, Nixon had signaled an end to the draft, and the massive national antiwar demonstrations had drawn to a halt. But a vanguard of activists continued the war against America's support for the anti-Communist war effort in Vietnam. Among them were John Kerry, Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. They held a war crimes tribunal, condemning America's role in Vietnam, and conducted a campaign to persuade the Democrats in Congress to cut all aid to South Vietnam and Cambodia, thus opening the door for a Communist conquest. When Nixon was forced to resign after Watergate, the
Democratic congress cut the aid as their first legislative act. They did this in January 1975. In April, the Cambodian and South Vietnamese regimes fell.
The events that followed this retreat in Indochina have been all but forgotten by the Left, which has never learned the lessons of Vietnam, but instead has invoked the retreat itself as an inspiration and guide for its political opposition to the war in Iraq. Along with leading Democrats like Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe, George McGovern called for an American retreat from Iraq even before a government could be established to assure the country will not fall prey to the Saddamist remnants and Islamic terrorists: "I did not want any Americans to risk their lives in Iraq. We should bring home those who are there." Explained McGovern: "Once we left
Vietnam and quit bombing its people they became friends and trading partners."
Actually, that is not what happened. Four months after the Democrats cut off aid to Cambodia and Vietnam in January 1975, both regimes fell to the Communist armies. Within three years the Communist victors had slaughtered two-and-a-half million peasants in the Indochinese peninsula, paving the way for their socialist paradise. The blood of those victims is on the hands of the Americans who forced this withdrawal: John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, and George McGovern - and antiwar activists like myself.
It is true that Vietnam eventually became a trading partner ("friend" is another matter). But this was not true that it occurred "once we left and quit bombing its people." Before that took place, a Republican president confronted the Soviet Union in Europe and Afghanistan and forced the collapse of the Soviet empire. It was only then, after the Cold War enemy and support of the Vietnamese Communists had been defeated, that they accommodated themselves to co-existence with the United States.
The "blame America first" mentality so manifest in this McGovern statement is endemic to the appeasement mentality that the "progressive" senator so typifies: "Iraq has been nestled along the Tigris and Euphrates for 6,000 years. It will be there 6,000 more whether we stay or leave, as earlier conquerors learned." In McGovern's Alice-in-Wonderland universe, Iraq did not invade two countries; use chemical weapons on its Kurdish population; attempt to assassinate a U.S. president; spend tens of billions of dollars on banned weapons programs; aid and abet Islamic terrorists bent on destroying the West; and defy 17 UN resolutions to disarm itself, open its borders to UN inspectors, and adhere to the terms of the UN truce it had signed when its aggression in Kuwait was thwarted.
During the battle over Vietnam policy thirty years ago, Nixon and supporters of the war effort had warned the antiwar Left of the consequences that would follow if their campaign was successful. If the United States were to
retreat from the field of battle, the Communists would engineer a 'bloodbath' of revenge and complete their revolutionary design. When confronted by these warnings, George McGovern, John Kerry, and other anti-Vietnam activists dismissed them out of hand. This was just an attempt to justify an imperialist aggression, they assured the public. Time proved the antiwar activists to be tragically, catastrophically wrong, although they have never had the decency to admit it.
If the United States were to leave the battlefield in Iraq now, before the peace is secured (and thus repeat the earlier retreat), there would be a bloodbath along the Tigris and Euphrates. The jihadists will slaughter our friends, our allies, and all of the Iraqis who are struggling for freedom. Given the nature of the terrorist war we are in, this bloodbath would also flow into the streets of Washington and New York and potentially every American city. The jihadists have sworn to kill us all. People who think America is invulnerable, that America can just leave the field of this
battle and there will be peace, do not begin to understand the world we confront.
Or if they understand it, they have tilted their allegiance to the other side. McGovern's phrase "as earlier conquerors learned," speaks volumes about the perverse moral calculus of the progressive Left. To McGovern we are conquerors, which makes the al-Zarqawi terrorists "liberators," or as Michael Moore would prefer, "patriots." The Left that wants America to throw in the towel in Iraq is hypersensitive to questions about its loyalties but at the same time can casually refer to our presence in Iraq as an "invasion and occupation." It wants to use the language of morality, but it only wants the standard to apply in one direction. There is no one-dimensional
standard, and a politics of surrender is not a politics of peace.
 Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2004.