Tuesday, September 11, 2007

General Petraeus vs. the Copperheads

Donald Kagan has written a timely piece on the poison of the peace-at-any-price movement, “Today’s Defeatists.”

In it, Kagan considers the appearance of American defeatism, which he defines as “the attitude, policy or conduct of a person who admits, expects, or no longer resists defeat.” Right now, he recognizes defeatism at work in the current opponents of the Iraq war:

The results of the recent change in leadership and strategy in Iraq have made it plain that the war there is not lost nor is defeat inevitable. And yet, the war’s opponents, even as the situation improves, have rushed to declare America defeated. They offer no plausible alternative to the current strategy and take no serious notice of the dreadful consequences of swift withdrawal. They seem to be panicked by the possibility of success and eager to bring about withdrawal and defeat before events make it too late.

Panic seems to be the only way to explain this week's wave of insulting, slanderous, and downright idiotic statements from Democrat after Democrat (and Chuck Hagel--feh!) in response to the appearance before them of General Petraeus--who has returned home from his battlefield command only to be accused of everything from lying, to having his report written for him by others, to treason.

All of which has rolled off Petraeus like so much nothing.

I can’t imagine that the most numbskulled of these attackers will be able to manage, in the days to come when they are alone and away from the protective mob of political shits that have become the Democratic Caucus, to not sit up in bed burning with shame at how they so publicly attacked an heroic American soldier of treachery and deceit with their puny scoldings and posturing.

“In their embarrassment,” Kagan writes, “they, not their critics, have raised the question of their patriotism. However that question may be resolved, such people surely deserve to be called defeatists.”

Kagan explains that this is not the first time defeatism has reared its head, and in fact the weakness of defeatism tends to be “typical of citizens of democracies engaged in long painful wars that do not promise swift victory.”

As examples, he cites the wavering of the Athenians on the eve of the Peloponnesian War. In our own time, Americans have seen defeatism taking a hand in the Korean War, and of course, in Vietnam.

Yet Kagan goes back to the Civil War for the most apt comparison. It was in 1864 that the Democratic Party was being dominated by the anti-war faction known as the “Copperheads.” The setting takes place when:

after three years of fearful casualties, victory for the Union forces was not in sight. Lincoln was determined to continue the fight to restore the integrity of the Union and to abolish slavery. Original opponents of the war were joined by great numbers who were simply weary, and others who were ready to seek peace at any price, which was for some the persistence of slavery and for others the dissolution of the Union. One English friend of the Union cause expected such politicians to compromise with the South in order to take it back, slavery and all. Such an event would be shameful, he said, but still “it would leave the question to be settled by a similar process of blood by another generation.”

The spearhead of the calls for a compromise was in the peace movement that had gained control of the Democratic Party.

Kagan writes that, according to the best historian on the subject, [Copperheads, by Jennifer L. Weber] the peace Democrats were “consistent and constant in their demand for an immediate peace settlement. At times they were willing to trade victory for peace. One persistent problem for [them] was their refusal or reluctance to offer a realistic and comprehensive plan for peace.”

I was just reading about U.S. Grant myself a few weeks back in Bruce Catton’s Grant Takes Command. I found out that, by spring 1864, Grant, after some initial successes upon being placed in charge of the Army of the Potomac, hit a slow stretch while directing sieges of two stubborn and well-defended Rebel cities. Catton writes that:

…In Georgia as in Virginia, the Federal advance was close to its chosen goal, but a powerful enemy in a powerful position still barred the way, and unhappy folk in the North began to feel that neither campaign was really succeeding. Stalemate at Petersburg seemed to be balanced by stalemate in front of Atlanta, each army seemed to be fighting a continuous battle with nothing much to show for it; it was beginning to be hard to take….

Hard, that is, for the war-weary Northern public who, among other things, were living through a presidential election year with a full-blown anti-war movement calling for an end to the war. One-time war supporter and abolitionist, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, was responsible for creating the peace movement. Catton describes how Greeley:

occasionally carried a pundit’s eccentricity to excess and who now had gone off on a tangent. Greeley somehow had got in touch with Confederate agents in Canada and had absorbed the idea that Lincoln could end the war if he could just sit down and talk reasonably with reasonable Confederates about a peace that would be honorable and satisfying to both sides. Greeley wrote despairingly to Lincoln about “our bleeding, bankrupt, almost dying country,” he failed to realize that the only peace Richmond wanted was one that saved both Southern independence and Southern slavery….

Grant, who began the war as a Democrat, also recognized the futility of peace terms with an implacably committed enemy, which he revealed in a letter to Congressman Washburne:

Our peace friends, if they expect peace from separation, are much mistaken. It would be but the beginning of war with thousands of Northern men joining the South because of our disgrace allowing separation. To have peace “on any terms” the South would demand the restoration of their slaves already freed. They would demand indemnity for losses sustained, and they would demand a treaty which would make the North slave hunters for the South. They would demand pay or the restoration of every slave escaping to the North.

Bogged down temporarily, as the North was, by the apparent “stalemates” of Petersburg and Atlanta, Grant knew perfectly well that the North would prevail in the end. Confident, but concerned about the failure of Northen nerve, Grant:

Early in June...wrote a letter to his Chicago friend, Russell Jones, emphasizing the military situation was much brighter than it seemed to be. Each of the two Confederate generals, Lee and Johnston, desperately needed to break out of the coil that was beginning to bind so tightly, and neither man could strike a blow because the odds against success were so long and the price of failure so prohibitive. To Jones Grant wrote:

You people up North must be of good cheer. Recollect that we have the bulk of the Rebel army, in two grand armies, both besieged and both conscious that they cannot stand a single battle outside their fortifications with the armies confronting them…If the Rebellion is not perfectly and thoroughly crushed it will be the fault and through the weakness of the people North. Be of good cheer and rest assured it will all come out right.

A couple of days later Grant wrote basically the same thing to his friend, naval officer Dan Ammen:

We will peg away, however, and end this matter if our people at home will but be true to themselves. If they would but reflect, everything looks favorable….The rebellion is now fed by the bickering and differences North. The hope of a counter-revolution over the draft, or the Presidential election, keeps them together. Then, too, they hope for the election of a “peace candidate” who would let them go. “A peace at any price” is fearful to contemplate. It would be but the beginning of the war. The demands of the South would know no limits. They would demand indemnity for expenses incurred in carrying on the war. They would demand the return of all their slaves set free in consequence of the war. They would demand a treaty looking to the rendition of all fugitive slaves escaping into the Northern states, and they would keep on demanding until it would be better dead than to submit longer.

Regarding the political side of things, Kagan notes the similarity of Lincoln’s problems of a slow-arriving victory and a rabid anti-war opposition with those of the current administration. In spite of having at last found the general, in U.S. Grant, who knew how to win the war for him and had the strategy to do it, the fact was, the war still dragged on.

A hostile newspaper wrote “that perhaps it is time to agree to a peace without victory.” Like Pericles, Lincoln was assailed by attacks on his policies and by personal vituperation. At the Democratic convention in August 1864 a speaker told a crowd in the streets that Lincoln and the Union armies had ‘‘Failed! Failed!! FAILED!!! FAILED!!!!” The loss of life ‘has never been seen since the destruction of Sennacherib by the breath of the Almighty and still the monster usurper wants more men for his slaughter pens.”

… Pressed by the Copperheads, the Democrats nominated a rabidly antiwar candidate for vice president and adopted a platform that called the war a “failure,” and demanded “immediate efforts” to end hostilities….” Their platform statement would permit abandonment not only of emancipation, but of the most basic war aim, reunion. Even New York’s Republican Party boss declared that Lincoln’s reelection was widely regarded as an “impossibility…The People [were] wild for Peace.” At the end of August defeat for the Republicans and the Union cause seemed inevitable, but Lincoln refused to seek peace without victory, saying that he was not prepared, to “give up the Union for a peace which, so achieved, could not be of much duration.”

Yet, Kagan describes how even "some of the president’s supporters were ready to abandon him and his policies.":

Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Times and chairman of the Republican party, wrote that throughout the country people were convinced “that we need a change, that the war languishes under Mr. Lincoln and that he cannot or will not give us peace…. The country is tired & sick of the war & is longing for peace.” Copperheads directed the most violent personal attacks on the man who stood in their way. “God’s curse is upon the land,” wrote a Pennsylvania publisher on the day Lincoln had designated for prayer. “Does it become us to acknowledge the truth, and pray for forgiveness of God for any and every part we may have taken in upholding the sins and abominations of this wicked administration ... to put on sack-cloth and retrace our steps[?]. . . Oh, God, give us Peace! . . . Stop this bloody hell-devised carnage.” Another Copperhead took to calling Lincoln the “widow maker” or the “orphan maker.” He said any man who voted for Lincoln was “a traitor and a murderer.” If Lincoln was reelected, “we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

Today, in Kagan’s view, the go-for-broke investment of today’s Democrats in American defeat in Iraq creates two big problems for them when we finally win: they will be blamed by their most virulent left fringe for failing to stop the war, and they will be nakedly exposed as the defeatists that they are.

Even when the Democrats succeeded in forcing our withdrawal from Vietnam, Americans, as Kagan points out, did not like the way it was done. Thereafter, “their distrust of the Democratic Party, seen as the home of the defeatists who were unwilling to defend American interests, was a major factor in the victories of seven out of ten Republican presidents in the elections beginning in 1968.”

The Democrats, mainly through their own insistence that mid-September 2007 arbitrarily had to be the make-or-break moment of decision on the future of Iraq, badly timed their most strident outbursts for complete withdrawal at any price just as America, slowly but surely, is absorbing the possibility that progress in Iraq, slowly but surely, is happening.

The Democrats in Congress this week have made the foolish mistake to think that the weapons of slander and ridicule they have deployed so effectively against a politically disabled President with a constitutional aversion for defending himself would be effective against a stoic and honorable general with four stars, a chest full of medals, and who is fated to have his war record adorned with the victory of the Battle of Iraq.

Anyone who has had the stomach to watch--and keep watching--Boxer and Feinstein and Byrd and Lantos and Wexler and Pelosi trying to pull the wings off the tethered and patient eagle seated before them (I haven’t had the stomach)--is witnessing the destruction not of General Petraeus, and not the American war policy in Iraq, but the leadership of the Democratic Caucus itself.

Their families must be ashamed of them.

Kagan summarizes the issue this way:

Victory in the war Americans confront today is not certain. If it comes it will arrive only after long and hard effort, but it is well to remember that the United States has lost war only when it has chosen to fight no longer. There are defeatists aplenty among us today, and they too, shout that the war has been lost, that the government that conducts it is stupid and incompetent, that the war is not necessary and that our leaders lied to us in bringing it on, that nothing terrible will ensue if we abandon the fighting. They, too, bewail the casualties incurred in the war and proclaim their support for the troops even as they delay voting a budget to sustain the military. Such stratagems may work so long as a war goes badly. But what if the current president has found his Grant and a better strategy?

I've believed all along, even before the President found General Petraeus, that some years hence, (I don't know how many), George W. Bush will be given the credit for the victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for altering by 180 degrees the too-long passive American policy toward Islamic terrorism. His accomplishment will be all the greater for having done it with, (as I believe Fred Barnes one time calculated it), 90% of the press against him, and 100% of the Democratic Party.

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