President George W. Bush seems to have driven his political opponents nuts. Howard Dean's reference to the "most interesting theory" that President Bush might have had foreknowledge of the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States suggests that Dean has gone around the bend.
But Dean is in good company with many of his fellow Democrats. Former Vice President and Democratic elder statesman Walter Mondale has joined the crowd, although he distinguished himself with spectacularly bad timing.
Mondale presided over a program devoted to discussion of the Bush administration's foreign policy at Macalester College on December 12, the day before American forces captured Saddam Hussein. At the program, Mondale vehemently condemned the foreign policy of the Bush administration.
Those of us who lived as adults through the four years of the Carter administration in which Walter Mondale last served as an important public official may find Mondale's statements especially strange. We recall how Carter proudly announced that the United States had overcome its "inordinate fear of Communism," famously planted a kiss on the cheek of Leonid Brezhnev, and then reacted with shock when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
We also recall how followers of Ayatollah Khomeni took 67 Americans hostage at the American embassy in Tehran. Over the succeeding 444 days, the Carter administration tried idle threats, vain pleas, and ineffectual military action to resolve the hostage crisis. Only the landslide election and subsequent inauguration of Ronald Reagan ultimately freed the hostages and ended the protracted national humiliation.
Henry Kissinger observed that the Carter administration had managed the extraordinary feat of having achieved, at one and the same time, "the worst relations with our allies, the worst relations with our adversaries, and the most serious upheavals in the developing world since the end of the Second World War."
These are the foreign policy credentials that Mondale brings to his assessment of the Bush administration. With these credentials, a reasonable person would conclude that discretion is the better part of valor and bite his tongue. Mondale, however, seems to believe that the foreign policy of the Carter administration should serve as a benchmark against which to judge the foreign policy of other administrations.
In fact, Mondale's criticism of the Bush Administration's use of military force recalls the worst misjudgments of the Carter administration. Mondale complained in his Macalester remarks that President Bush is forcing democracy on Iraq and Afghanistan "at bayonet point." He thus ignores the necessity of overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in order to deprive al Qaeda of its home base. He apparently thinks we should have kindly asked the Taliban to step aside after 9/11. Can one imagine Mondale complaining that the United States brought democracy to Germany and Japan "at bayonet point" after World War II?
Mondale also asserted that the administration's policies depart from post-World War II foreign policy aimed at forming international coalitions to address national security problems and condemned the Bush doctrine of preemption. Mondale's description of the bipartisan foreign policy favoring international coalitions during the past 50 years, however, is a fantasy.
The United States has always taken action on its own when necessary to protect its critical security interests. Indeed, as a United States senator, Mondale himself was a supporter of America's unilateral military efforts to resist the Communist conquest of South Vietnam so long as Lyndon Johnson was president.
On the other hand, Mondale also became a critical supporter of efforts to undermine the prosecution of the war once it became the responsibility of Richard Nixon. His positions were anything but "bipartisan," and they had nothing to do with the presence or absence of an international coalition.
Mondale does no better describing the current Bush administration policy—"their radical, unilateral, go-it-alone, in-your-face approach"—than he does describing past history. The Bush administration has of course undertaken many successful efforts to enlist allies in the war on terrorism, and as Bush constantly points out, 60 nations are participating in our effort in Iraq.
After September 11, 2001, most Americans instinctively understand the common sense supporting the refusal to await further attacks on American soil before undertaking defensive action. Common sense, however, is a quality in short supply among those who, like Mondale, can't see past their hatred of a president whose leadership casts them in his shadow.