The party of weakness and retreat

Mort Kondracke:

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If Democratic candidates embrace the strategy of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) to cut off funds for U.S. troops in Iraq, they deserve to be compared to the losers of the past -- George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

All lost presidential elections -- often by landslides -- mainly because voters perceived them as being unreliable in protecting the country from foreign adversaries.

This year, as in the past, the force-averse liberal base of the party is demanding ever-stronger statements and actions in opposition to the Iraq War and party leaders are obliging, with Murtha, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and presidential candidates either obliging or leading the process.

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But it's worth remembering that Carter pretended to be a hawkish Democrat when running against then-incumbent President Gerald Ford -- an Annapolis graduate and former nuclear submariner -- and, at that, Ford almost beat him.

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Still, there are reasons to doubt that, when it comes to new challenges, Democrats actually will be strong enough to protect the country and sustain the public's trust.

The Murtha proposal for de-funding the surge is cleverly drawn as a troop-protection measure, barring funds for deployment of units to Iraq that don't meet training, equipment or time-at-home standards.

But Republicans already are setting the stage to rightly characterize Murtha's plan as a denial of reinforcements for troops already in the field. And it's an attempt by Congress to micromanage a war, telling the commander in chief how to deploy his forces.

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There's a precedent for Democrats heading like lemmings off a left-wing cliff. It was in the 1984 campaign, when Democrats vied with each other to claim first authorship of the "nuclear freeze" idea, which would have left the Soviet Union with a monopoly of intermediate-range missiles pointed at Europe.

The freeze idea was utterly discredited when then-President Ronald Reagan succeeded in winning a Soviet stand-down by getting Germany to agree to deploy U.S. Pershing missiles on its soil.

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The Democrats are misreading the polls or they are avoiding the truth. At best they are confusing dissatisfaction with the war with a desire to lose. When asked if they want to win a majority still favors winning and the Republicans need to make it clear that theya re standing with that majority.

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