Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Reid the Omens

[Cross-posted on AmbivaBlog]

Senate minority leader Harry Reid's brazen calling of a closed session of the Senate today -- a sudden move that the blindsided majority leader, Bill Frist, called a "hijacking" -- has to be seen, I think, as the unveiling of the Democrats' 2006 campaign strategy.

Smelling blood in the water as the Administration flounders, the Dems have obviously decided to mimick successful Rovian ruthlessness and move in for the kill. They're going to put up a big and (in my view) inappropriate ideological brawl over Samuel Alito. But much worse, they're obviously betting on the public's growing alienation from the Iraq war as their meal ticket -- and to bet on it is to fan it, to exacerbate it.

The ultimate judgment of the invasion of Iraq will not be its origin but its outcome -- its success or failure in establishing a viable democratic state, a tremulous enterprise that is now struggling to be born in the teeth of a vicious and unrelenting effort to destroy it. The entire drama of whether we, the (classically) liberal West, and our values will or will not survive and prevail is being acted out in miniature in Iraq right now, as a prefiguring. It's kind of like the play within the play in Hamlet. The origins of the war -- yes! it was sold on false pretenses, I think because the Cheney crew made the judgment that the real reasons were too complex to rouse public support for such a risk -- are almost irrelevant now. If the war fails on its own merits because it was an impossible undertaking AND badly executed, there will be plenty of time for heads to roll and historic judgments to be passed. But the core Democrats, consciously or not, are trying to force that outcome prematurely, because they think it will be good for them.

That's criminally insane.


At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Rex Deaver said...

Have to disagree. Waiting for the train wreck to happen, when you can see it coming, before you do anything about it would be the criminally irresponsible action. Forcing the engineers to confront the problem while there is still time to change tracks is the only sane thing to do.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

Rex: But what track do we change to? It would be one thing for the Democrats to be advocating a change of military tactic that is still focused on succeeding in Iraq--it's quite another to wish for and actively work towards a failure of the mission. Leaving Iraq now would be a tragic and morally inexcusable action--and yet that seems to be the Democrat's goal.
Unfortunatley, whether or not we were misled into war is not related to whether or not we should stay. The Dems seem to be confusing the two. And that's politics of opertunism not politics of leadership

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Rex Deaver said...


The Democrats have laid out at least one alternative track, in Sen. Kerry's speech a few days ago. Agree or disagree with that proposal, you cannot truthfully say that one has not been offered.

There is mounting evidence that the occupation itself is the problem in Iraq, and senior officers in-country have repeatedly stated that there is no military solution to the problem. A phased withdrawal, with firm but flexible deadlines, is the only way to get the Iraqi leadership to get serious about ironing out differences and forming a government that won't rely on US troops to keep it propped up.

This is a lesson that history has repeatedly taught us, and it is about time we learned it. The WH will never accept that until it is far too late; they are too heavily invested, both ideologically and politically, in "staying the course" to make the necessary changes without significant pressure from Congress and the public.

A majority in the polls...a considerably larger majority than voted for this administration...concurs with that assessment, which is why the Democratic leadership feels safe in mounting the challenge. And, from the early results, they most likely read the situation correctly; if the Democrats bring the Senate to a standstill in order to get a change in course, they will likely receive broad public support.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Tom - doubts and all said...

I think Rex has it right. We are too much a part of the problem in Iraq to stay indefinitely or to escalate in an attempt to win outright.

Phased withdrawal in sync with the political process is accomplishing the stated mission. Anything else is part of some other agenda.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


I'm not a big rah-rah guy when it comes to this war as I have serious questions as to whether or not it was necessary. But I do staunchly support staying in Iraq as I cannot fathom what would happen if we should leave. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of military options vs. political options vs. other options (whatever those may be), the point is that we need to be discussing options that would not lead us down the path to premature withdrawal. We can't fool ourselves into thinking we can easily remove ourselves without all out chaos filling the void. And we can't fool ourselves into thinking we don't have a deeply moral obligation to ensure said chaos doesn't erupt.

My question is, if finding better options is the intent of the Democrats, then why the closed-door stunt? Why focus so intently on the lead-up to the war?

Here's what I think is going on: the Dems are sensing that there is war fatigue throughout America and that they can capitalize on this negativity by becoming the anti-war party (a strategy that was highly successful in the mid 70s). But to do this, they cannot merely label the handling of the war as incompetent. If they did that, they would be a pro-war party that just has some different ideas. Nope, they want to deligitimize the whole war. They think that if they can convince Americans that lies and deceptions led us into this war, then they can convince Americans that there is no moral imperative to staying there. We are already a bad, bad country for going in, so nothing we do now will make us any worse.

That's a morally vapid strategy, I think. But it seems to be where the Dems are headed and is why Reid's stunt focused on the lead-up to the war and not its current execution. Selling America a revised strategy to winning the war is not going to win them back the Congress--or so they think. They seem to think only a strategy of quick withdrawal will get them the support they need.

Whether it works or not remains to be seen. I personally think they'd be better off focusing on domestic issues.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

I don't know, Alan. I don't see the Democrats saying that yet; even the big Democratic blogs (with the possible exception of Kos) are fairly twisted up about it.

I do think the Democrats have come to understand that, when it comes to security issues, as long as they're the omega to the Republicans' alpha, they're doomed to second-tier status. But they can't out-militarize the GOP, at least not while they're still the minority party. This is their strategy for taking the initiative in the debate, nothing more.

At 1:54 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


I've just noticed that more and more elected Democrats are saying, outright, that the Bush administration manipulated facts in the lead-up to the war. And many are trying to spin Libby's indictment to be proof that Bush misled us into war--as if it's not enough that it's proof of this administration's ongoing corruption (innocent until proven guilty not-withstanding).

I have to ask: why the fixation on the lead-up to war? I think the answer is that the Dems are moving toward the strategy of deligitmizing the war so they can then make the push for quick withdrawal.

I am clearly conjecturing here--but I'm concerned about it. If I'm right, I think the Dems are going down a very bad path. And I don't think that path will win them many elections.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

Sure, they may be trying to delegitimize the war. But let's remember that they are not anti-war activists; they're politicians. They are much more interested, as a group, in delegitimizing the GOP.

They clearly see the widespread dissatisfaction with the Iraq adventure as an opportunity to do that. But that doesn't necessarily mean they will advocate a pull-out; or even that if they do, they will actually commence a pull-out (assuming they ever get a majority or a President again). See Nixon, Richard for historical precedent.

You may want to check out Ed Kilgore's post today, though, which echoes your concerns from a more partisan standpoint.

Now, I do think there's some decent arguments to be made that an exit timetable is necessary to restore order to the region. I'm skeptical of those arguments, mostly because they're very Iraq-centric and don't speak to the broader needs in the Middle East. But I think they make some good points.

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Rex Deaver said...


The "broader needs of the Middle East" are to resolve the Palestinian question equitably. Period. Full stop.

A Western-style democracy in Iraq, even if such were possible, would have little effect. A protracted occupation would, however, be disastrous. And a failure to reject torture would just be the cherry on top of Al Qaeda's double-fudge sundae. Unless the Bush Whitehouse is forced to flush the neocons out of its councils, it will fail to achieve the first and will insist on its right to the second and third.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


The elected Dems are not anti-war activists but they are in close communication and seem to be taking more and more cues from them.

I don't think it's illigetimate to use dissatisfaction with the war in the run-up to the '06 elections, I just hope the Dems do it wisely and not hysterically. Just because a majority of Americans are now dissatisfied with the war doesn't mean any more are going to believe or be motivated by cries of "Bush lied." But I sense that may be the path certain Dems want to take.

From a purely political standpoint, the war is a treacherous terrain over which to build the path to electoral success. The Republicans are vulnerable in a lot of places--if I were the Dems, I'd aim for the fertile fields of corruption and incompetence.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Gruntled said...

The first part of amba's post was about Democrats seeking a needless war about Alito. I think she is correct about that -- both sides want a bloodbath, for purposes of having a bloodbath. Roberts clearly was not the guy to go to war about. I don't think Alito is, either. None of his positions, not even husband notification in the case of abortion (about which I wrote today http://gruntledcenter.blogspot.com/) is way out of line. I think the statesmen in my party, like, maybe, Lieberman, out to take the lead in promoting governing instead of fighting. We will never be the ruling party again if we are only the "anti" party.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

Alan: Well, here's some interesting contemplations of what the Dems might actually be up to (H/T: Dean Esmay). I think the ideas are a halfway-decent start, though I significantly prefer the thinking on security expressed here.

Rex: agree on Israel/Palestine and torture; not so sure about a protracted occupation. I think it could be disastrous, sure; but disaster seems to lurk behind almost every decision we make nowadays. If the occupation is accompanied by strong socioeconomic development that actually benefits most Iraqis, I don't think it will necessarily be so bad. The evidence suggests that most Iraqis still want us to be there.

Gruntled, Lieberman's manner of leadership will never win over the base of the Democratic Party. He's simply too conciliatory and frankly, more omega than alpha. The Republicans have not been successful by writing off their base; they've been successful by forging a (barely tenuous) alliance between their base and the center. The Democrats need to figure out how to do the same.

At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Rex Deaver said...


If the occupation is accompanied by strong socioeconomic development that actually benefits most Iraqis, I don't think it will necessarily be so bad.

But that hasn't happened, and isn't likely to. 3 years has still not seen an appreciable return of basic services (water, electricity), oil production, or basic infrastructure. The reason cited for that, and likely true, is security. No army except one has ever beaten a determined insurgency; the Legions of Imperial Rome. And they only succeeded by destroying the non-combatant populations of the areas where those insurgencies were operating. Even the Nazis weren't willing to do that very often.

The evidence suggests that most Iraqis still want us to be there.

Actually, every poll taken in Iraq since 2003 shows supermajorities...up to 80%...opposed to the occupation. Google it for yourself.

At 1:43 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


I would be cautious in using historic examples of insurgencies as proof that we are doomed to fail. First and foremost, our occupation of Iraq is not that of an imperial nation. We WANT to leave.

Secondly, the insurgency is not--despite some people's claims--a group of freedom fighters. We're not talking the French Resistence here. We're talking about a group--actually several groups--seeking to seize control of Iraq away from majority, democratic rule. Getting rid of us is only part of their aim. Restablishing a Sunni-led autocracy or a fascist theocracy (depending on which insurgents you're talking about) is the true aim.

As such, this is really more of a civil war being fought with terrorist tactics. the Iraq insurgents are actually more similar to the IRA or Basques than they are to being actual insurgents in a "kick-out-the-invaders" sense. They won't stop killing even if every last American soldier leaves. In fact, staying will almost certainly help surpress the violence and increase the chance that a strong democracy arises (even if that chance is still less than 50%).

This is all very complicated and its not like I can come close to claiming I have a solid strategy. But I do feel that comparing these insurgents to historical insurgencies is inaccurate and leads to false conclusions about what the future holds.

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Rex Deaver said...


the Iraq insurgents are actually more similar to the IRA or Basques than they are to being actual insurgents in a "kick-out-the-invaders" sense.

I did not specify the goals of insurgencies, simply that they were committed. The IRA and Basque separatists are excellent comparisons to the Iraqi insurgents...and two examples that also had/have no military solution.

At 5:01 PM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

Rex -

I did google it, and I have to admit that I hadn't thought of looking at Iraqi opinion polls before. Sobering. I'm not sure how to weigh the polls versus the high levels participation in the new government, though. But it's certainly food for thought.

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Rex Deaver said...


I'm not sure how to weigh the polls versus the high levels participation in the new government, though.

I think you are stuck on the horns of a false dilemma. Support for self government and opposition to the occupation are two entirely different things.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Tom Strong said...

But then again, there's also this.

It's from last year, so opinions may have deteriorated significantly since then. But it's definitely pretty positive.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


There may not be a military solution (and I don't think there really can be) but there is still a need for our military to provide security until the Iraqi people have the governmental structure and force to combat the "insurgents" without our help. Britain and Spain managed to hold down the IRA and Basques because they were working from a stable society and had significant law enforcement resources as well as a strong judiciary. That may be asking a lot for Iraq to develop before we leave, but they have to be further along than they are now. I don't think we have reason to give up on Iraq yet.

At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Rex Deaver said...


My last post on this topic.

I don't think we have reason to give up on Iraq yet.

Who said anything about giving up? Again this is a false dilemma; there are a nearly infinite number of options between abandoning Iraq and occupying it indefinitely.

Arguing as if there are only those two choices is a logical fallacy and, in amba's words, criminally insane.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

I was specifically talking about those who want to withdraw troops immediately and who think doing so is the best hope for Iraq. Obviously there are numerous options somewhere between complete-witdrawl and continued oocupation at current troop levels. I hope I didn't come off as not understanding the intricacies of the situation. I'd really hate to be criminally insane.


Post a Comment

<< Home