Democrats Quit the Cold War

Article excerpt

In his State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton said of the Cold War: "One of the greatest sources of our strength throughout the Cold War was a bipartisan foreign policy. . . . Because our future was at stake, politics stopped at the water's edge."

What? Politics did not stop at the water's edge. That's where politics truly heated up.

The bipartisan consensus on fighting the Cold War lasted approximately from 1945 to 1965. The period of 1965 to 1989, it seems absurd to have to remind people, was a period of profound and bitter division over foreign policy. The Republican Party remained committed to opposing communism. That commitment took many forms. It meant support for a very strong and technologically advanced American military. (The Democrats decried spending for weapons "we don't need and that don't work.") It meant support for the government of South Vietnam (which Democrats opposed and which spelled Vietnam's doom). It meant support for freedom-fighter movements around the globe - the Contras in Nicaragua, the mujahadeen of Afghanistan and Jonas Savimbi's forces in Angola. Most of all, opposition to world communism meant a muscular and firm antipathy to the Soviet Union and its interests. Date it however you like (the Tet offensive of 1968?), but at a certain point between 1965 and 1970, most of the Democratic Party simply resigned from fighting the Cold War. There is no other way to say it. For the Democratic Party, the Vietnam War was not just an unsuccessful or unfortunate move on the Cold War chessboard. It marked instead a sea change in the way Democrats saw the United States. For Democrats, Vietnam undermined the entire anti-communist enterprise. The struggle for South Vietnam's freedom came to be seen as pointless or, worse, an effort to impose America's corrupt system abroad. And Democrats began viewing the Cold War in terms of moral equivalence - merely two giants maneuvering for power. Starting with the cutoff of aid to South Vietnam in 1974, the Democratic Congress opposed nearly every significant Cold War policy. Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration (and dubbed the "Prince of Darkness" by those who preferred a softer line toward the Soviets), recalls that during sensitive arms-control negotiations with the Soviet Union, the Democrats in Congress were constantly undercutting the administration's position by floating alternative policies of their own. …