By Alan Nathan © 2006

There are times when the inertia of diplomacy endangers more lives than would the action it’s trying to abate, and it is at such moments when action becomes the more humane choice. Stupidly, we forget that the absence of war doesn’t equal peace if that absence perpetuates the ongoing suffering of millions or the potential for millions more.

No country, group, or tribe may use its claims to sovereignty, religion, or ethnicity as licenses to suppress any people by way of mass rape, mass torture, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

For these reasons, regardless of our differences on domestic politics, it is imperative that we become more openly consistent in our national understanding of what constitutes a just war. Not surprisingly, that consistency is sorely lacking when looking at the respective “in-power” vs. “out of power” rhetoric of Republicans and Democrats.

While the Left is less inclined to use war as a tool for ending these affronts to humanity than is the Right, conservatives have shown similar hypocrisy when it meets their political ends. We need only glance at talk radio and talk television yesterday and today.

The UN Security Council told President Bill Clinton in advance that it would say “no” if requested to back the war in Yugoslavia. Thankfully, we ignored the feckless will of the UN and on March 24, 1999, the United States and NATO took military action in Yugoslavia to stop then President Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian war of terror against the Albanians. The State Department’s listing of atrocities included: false imprisonments, torture, body burnings, armed expulsions, systematic rape, and genocidal tactics. After a relentlessly effective two-and-a-half month bombing campaign, Milosevic surrendered. Aside from an accidental hit on the Chinese embassy, the short war concluded dramatically well in that millions of lives were freed, Milosevic faced trial in the Hague and not one American or NATO life was lost. Contrary to the warnings of almost every pundit and armchair general, ground troops were not needed and all proved winnable by aerial attack alone – Clinton was right. Predictably, the “lion hearts” at the UN gave their retroactive approval once the diplomatic-coast was cleared by our success.

Popular conservative hosts were almost as undercutting to our military’s mission against Slobodan Milosevic as they have justly accused the Left for being in its opposition to Iraq. And just as the Right correctly admonishes those who wouldn’t back President Bush on humanitarian grounds after doing so for Clinton, so they should equally be accountable for having opposed Clinton when those grounds were similarly apparent in Kosovo. Note the following contradictions:

Rush Limbaugh on his show commenting on whether or not it’s feasible to support the troops but not their mission – June 1, 2004:

The fact of the matter is, when people on the Left say, “We support the troops. We oppose the war,” they are trying to camouflage the fact that they’re anti-military. They are all anti-military. It’s a defining characteristic of the left. … You can’t sit there and say, “I support the troops, but I don’t think they should be sent to war. I support the troops, but I don’t want them getting hurt.” Well, hell, if you want to have troops that don’t get hurt, don’t have troops. The purpose of troops is to kill people and break things, and if you don’t support that, you don’t support the troops. Nice try, but BS.

Now Rush Limbaugh on Kosovo as quoted by John Hassell, New Jersey’s Ledger Star – April 7, 1999:

We don’t have a plan. If we had a plan, we’d have 200,000 ground troops deployed and standing by…let’s cut our losses and accept this ‘ceasefire’ – Give the President a Congressional Medal of Honor and lets get back home.

“Let’s cut our losses and accept this ceasefire”? As subsequent developments would prove, Rush was calling for snatching the enemy’s defeat from our jaws of victory. He and his brethren were guilty of the same defeatism now shown by the Democrats: failing to understand that war is often a work in progress and can’t be defined as a loss just because it is not yet a win.

Easy lip service about troop bravery aside, if the strength of your political argument is reliant upon emphasizing how poorly a war is progressing, then by default you’re less inclined to credit the military for their accomplishments as such developments will undercut your original opposition. If their performance is truly poor, then it’s fair-game criticism and may coexist with your claim to support the troops. However, if their fighting is excellent and their accomplishments are great, but you disproportionately emphasize setbacks at the exclusion of their daily triumphs so as to support your original thesis – congratulations, you’ve been caught putting your party ahead of your people (or playing politics with war). Whether they’re righties like Rush Limbaugh or lefties like Al Franken of Air America, the strategy is equally inexcusable.

Compared to Limbaugh, Franken has more frequently demonstrated a strained relationship with veracity. While highlighting the duplicity of then House Majority Whip Tom Delay on Kosovo, he exposed the precursor to his own on Iraq. Franken cited that in May of 1999, Delay pointed to President Clinton for causing the very trouble he was claiming to stop, i.e., regional instability, refugees, Kosovars dying and saying that the ‘credibility of NATO would be undermined.’ But Franken then follows that with:

Far from causing “these problems to explode,” the NATO bombing campaign halted much of the genocidal slaughter being perpetuated by the Serbs against their neighbors. The general consensus from regional experts and Balkan leaders is that Clinton’s measured intervention in Kosovo prevented a holocaust in the region comparable to Hitler’s execution of six million Jews.

Given that Milosevic’s slaughter ratio was far less than that of Saddam Hussein’s by every conceivable measure, why can’t the long-term mitigating benefit of Saddam’s removal be given at least similar respect? Surely, it is even more deserving. Because Franken defended Clinton’s war against Milosevic based on the very humanitarian grounds he would later begrudge Bush’s war on Hussein, he revealed more of his own oily deceptiveness than any of his ideological antagonists ever could have mustered.

However, we shouldn’t be surprised. Long ago, Franken and his brethren abandoned progressives and joined the authoritarian-left. It was only natural that they embrace the likes of Massachusetts Senator John (you’re dumb if you’re in the military) Kerry, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, DNC Chair Howard Dean, and Retired NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark. All these Democrats have records of choosing convenience over conviction.

Kerry rejected Gulf I but supported Gulf II – until he opposed it; Edwards supported Gulf II but like Kerry opposed its funding; Dean backed Gulf I but rejected Gulf II even though II’s mission was to enforce I’s treaty; and, Clark backed Gulf II but only on the condition that said support be understood as opposition. (Welcome to Profiles in Courage.)

In disgust, many say Republicans and Democrats are really the same – not true. However, they are opposite sides of the same coin showing no signs of evolving and for this reason, the centrists in each camp should consider getting together to mint a new party.