During the first Democratic presidential debate, moderator Anderson Cooper asked the candidates which enemy were they most proud of having. This was a fascinating question (and one that should be asked of the Republicans as well), though it elicited fairly predictable responses: The coal lobby, the National Rifle Association and “Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry.” The two most interesting answers, though, came from Jim Webb and Hillary Clinton. Webb said he was most proud to be the enemy of a soldier in Vietnam who attempted to kill him, and whom he instead killed. Clinton said, “Well, in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians. Probably the Republicans.”
It is worth noting that, other than Webb, only Clinton named any foreign adversary to her list of enemies; the rest were all proud to have battled various big businesses or special interests loathed by the partisan crowd. Although it was fairly questionable of Clinton to claim the Iranians as her enemy when she supports lifting sanctions against Iran, the part of her lengthy answer that was most surprising was when she named all Republicans as her top enemy — rather than, say, ISIS or Al Qaeda.
Joe Biden, then still considering a presidential run, immediately criticized her for this remark, and rightly so. Clinton later attempted to walk back the comment, and yet — feeble attempt at humor that it was — it revealed a deeper truth. The next debate, held in the immediate aftermath of the brutal attacks in Paris by ISIS, would have been a perfect chance for the Democratic candidates to take a tougher line. Though they attempted to do so, instead they continued to flounder.
Bernie Sanders stuck to his absurd claim that climate change was a bigger threat to American national security than terrorism. Martin O’Malley, when asked whether it was too dangerous a world to have a president with no foreign policy experience, avoided the question completely. Clinton decried the terrorism and instability in the Middle East while taking no responsibility for the policies that helped contribute to it.
Though the moderator did not directly revisit the “top enemy” question in light of the Paris attacks, he did press the candidates on whether the United States was at war with radical Islam. The three of them all pivoted away from the term, refusing to use it or a similar term and instead emphasizing that the West was not at war with Islam as a whole. That’s not wrong: they’re right to point that out now, just as George W. Bush was right to point it out in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11.
However, the Democrats’ refusal to directly name the enemy is not a sign of strength, but one of weakness. While President Bush always made it clear that the United States was not at war with Islam as a whole, he was never afraid to name the enemy: radical terrorists who were at war with everything America stands for.
It should be telling to us all that most of the Democrats on stage at that debate named as their top enemy not a force of evil threatening to kill us all, but various other Americans with whom they disagreed. In this time of a continuing global war, America needs a president who can unite the world in this fight against evil, not one who is proud of dividing this country. That’s the kind of leadership the world needs from America, and it’s the kind of leadership that was not at all evident among any of the Democratic candidates on stage last weekend.