Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

More on the Ned-Joe Smackdown

Jacob Weisberg at slate.com thinks the Lamont victory is a disaster for Democrats. This is significant because Weisberg is no Rove-bot. Money quotes:

The problem for the Democrats is that the anti-Lieberman insurgents go far beyond simply opposing Bush’s faulty rationale for the war, his dishonest argumentation for it, and his incompetent execution of it. Many of them appear not to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously. . .

We know this because we have been here before. The Lamont-Lieberman battle was filled with echoes and parallels from the Vietnam era. Democratic reformers and anti-establishment insurgents weren’t wrong about that conflict, either. Vietnam was a terrible mistake for the United States. But like Iraq, Vietnam was a badly chosen battlefield in a larger conflict with totalitarianism that America had no choice but to pursue. In turning viciously on stalwarts of the Cold War era like Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson, anti-war insurgents called into question the Democratic Party’s underlying commitment to challenging Communist expansion.

 

Discussions - 22 Comments

Yup. The memory of the Vietnam-era opposition even now makes me wince. Weisberg is basically making the Peretz point, and Peretz is honest enough to draw attention to some of his own experience.

Its interesting that you would use a quote that compares Lamont to 60’s and 70’s Democrats who spoke out against the war in Vietnam. Here is why I find it intersting, those Democrats were right to speak out about Vietnam as a mistake. What did we get for our efforts in Vietnam? When we "pulled out" (Rumsfeld was the Secretary of Defense then, btw) did Communism sweep South East Asia? Have you seen "Fog of War" with Robert McNamara? If anything time has vindicated those who spoke out against the war and has made the warhawks look foolish -- like paranoid throwbacks grasping at empty rhetoric to prop up a failed policy.

On a more important note, the undercurrent of your post points to another red herring often deployed by those on the right, namely, that somehow the war in Iraq has something to do with the war on terror. Iraq had no WMD, had no ability to use WMD, did not aid Al Qaeda, had no role in the 9/11 attacks etc (see the 9/11 Commission report for more data). Thinking the war in Iraq is a failed policy, riddled with misjudgments and mismanagements (of which Condi Rice has admitted there were "thousands"), is NOT sononamous with not being a strong advocate for defending America in the war on terror. In fact, I can easily make the case that by leaving Iraq we are actually helping to protect our country more, for a number of reasons including reducing muslim hatred of America through reduced "collateral damage" and by allowing the National Guard to do what the name implys rather than driving trucks of KFC and gasoline from Kuwait to Baghdad.

I’ve gone on too long already, but to sum up...your quote of analysis about Lamont is wrong, and if anything serves to prove the opposite of its intended effect.

Abbie - I think you need to read Weisberg’s comparison more carefully. It’s not clear what part of his point you disagree with.

Sorry if it was unclear. Let me try again, and perhaps some of my assumptions about your reasons for posting this are not correct, so let me spell them out. I am assuming that: 1. You think that we should be in Iraq and that it is related to the war on terror. 2. Democrats who criticize the war in Iraq (which is the same as the war on terror, in your opinion) are handing the Presidency to the Republicans for the next 2 decades much like they did when the critiqued the war in Vietnam. 3. That this (Republican control of the White House) is a good thing so republicans should take comfort in Lamont’s victory. 4. That the war in Vietnam was necessary and that the war in Iraq is necessary. 5. Lamont’s win shows the weakness of the Democratic party when it comes to the war on terror.

If these are in fact the main points you and Weisberg are trying to advance here,and even if they are not, it is these assumptions that I disagree with completely.

Bottom Line: no matter how much Bush Inc. tries to conflate Iraq and the War on Terror they are not the same thing (or at least were not in February of 2002). Lamont’s victory does not signify anything with respect to how Democrats are on homeland defense or how vigorously they will protect the nation from terrorism. If anything what it signifies is how fed up the Democratic electorate is with Bush’s arrogant and disconnected "stay the course in Iraq" attitude.

Let me try. I read Weisberg as saying that Democrats will be in serious trouble if the party moves from opposition to the war in Iraq to a wider claim that the WOT isn’t worth fighting/is the result of bad US policies in the ME/is best dealt with through the UN. A sizable piece of the antiwar left in the late 60s and early 70s began with Vietnam, but then launched into a critque of American foreign policy that pinned the blame for the Cold War on the US or suggested that there was no difference between Amerika and the USSR, and on the policymaking side, favored scaling back the military and intelligence capacity of the US.

Weisberg wasn’t saying that it was wrong to oppose the war in Vietnam then or the war in Iraq now. He was saying that without an alternative -- without some indication that terrorism is a serious thing -- the Democrats might be in trouble down the line. Lamont gave him no indication of seriousness.

Louie that does indeed make sense. I think the source of my confusion is becuase I don’t automatically assume that the republicans/Bush are better at protecting America. I think the Bush Iraq war has seriously depleated our ability to make good on military threats (see Iran, N. Korea etc)and Bush’s ratings on implementing the 9/11 Commissions guidelines rate in the D/F range. Hurrican Katrina shows how prepared Bush made the nation to face a national disaster (and he had 4 years to get there).

In my mind flag waving, chest thumping and saber rattling are less important than what one actually DOES when in office. The level of disconnect between Bush’s words and deeds is astonishing...the Democratic voters of CT see through it, Leiberman doesn’t. I think it is called "Joementum".

louie makes the right point, in my opinion. Thank you, louie!

Republicans are trying very hard to argue that the Lieberman defeat shows THEY’RE BACK: Democrats who can’t be trusted not to blame America first, can’t be trusted to recognize the real threat radical Islam poses, can’t be trusted to defend the country. See Krauthammer in today’s WaPo.

Good questions are still open: can a minority of the Democratic party be prevented from wielding a veto over presidential nominees, and can the many Democrats who have contempt for Bush, on good grounds or bad, also think sensibly about foreign and national security policy. So far, Republicans have been very effective at arguing that opposition to Bush’s policies in Iraq is tantamount to being untrustworthy. And part of Lieberman’s problem in Connecticut was that he seemed to be saying the same.

We seem to be seeing an interesting asymmetry. The Vietnam war, begun by Democrats, split the Democrats. The Iraq war, begun by Republicans, seems to be splitting the. . .Democrats, many of whom can’t stay focused on the threat that preceded the war, and will survive it. There is room for serious Democratic leadership to step up, but time’s awasting.

Abbie,

Do you mind explaining why you think the war in Iraq is not (and was not in Feb. 2002) part of the war on terror?

Fred - Here’s what Abbie said: "Bush Inc. tries to conflate Iraq and the War on Terror [but] they are not the same thing (or at least were not in February of 2002)." That is, they may have become the same thing, but were not in 2002.

It is not, unreasonable, in my opinion, to note that our actions in 2002 (which I supported) have created problems in Iraq now that did not exist in 2002; in effect, that sudden American withdrawal now would be worse doing nothing in Iraq in 2002. Sometimes the administration even suggests that attracting terrorists to Iraq was part of the intention behind "regime change." If so, one wishes the administration had been more competent following the fall of Saddam.

The main point that I was trying to make (which still was perhaps not clear) was that one can be against the war in Iraq (from the start, or in favor of a phased out withdrawl, or in favor of a vast reduction of troops in the field) and still vigorously prosecute the war on terror. Furthermore, I think a strong argument can be made that the war in Iraq actually works counter to the war on terror by depleting both our soft and hard military power. It also is spending our future prosperity at an unsustainable rate, fuels the Islamo-fascist propaganda machine, and gives the terrorists ample opportunity to hone their skills in combat. Lastly, by arguing over Iraq we are missing the real threat which is Al Qeada, which I think the Bush administration should do a lot more to protect us from....and what they do choose to do should be done in a legal manner consistent with our Constitution and the rule of law. Sorry I went on too long again.

p.s. the 2002 in my original post on this topic should have been 2003...sorry about that.

At the risk of being banned for too many posts, a brief question: Partisanship aside, how does the U.S. effort in Iraq keep America safer from terrorists? (provide warrents beyond "we are fighting them over there...yadda yadda yadda").

Abbie,

I’ve been away and apologize for the late response. You make some well-reasoned points. As I said in a different comment area, when the war began I opposed it, but for largely different reasons [can a sectarian society that follows a religion mandating a religious state be peacefully republican-democracy, and what does a war on terror mean (i.e., where are its boundaries)?]

If I understand you correctly, you believe the War in Iraq, when it began, could not have been part of the war on terror because the Hussein regime was not connected to al-Qadea in the manner we were led to believe (based on bad intel) prior to the invasion. However, in declaring the war on terror, President Bush went to some length at articulating what terror was, and it was not only connected to al-Qadea. I’m not sure he articulated (defined) well enough what terrorism was, and therefore the whole idea of a war on terrorism might be fraught with problems. However, in so far as he did define it (and those states that harbor terrorists), Iraq certainly qualified (Hussein and Sons acts as sovereign (mass graves) and terrorist organizations operating independently within their borders, etc.).

Your point on priorty seems to ring true. Knowing what we do now, Iraq should not have been a priority in the WOT. However, had the claims of (bad) intel been legitimate, then I would argue that, in Feb. 2003, the invasion was the correct choice of next venue after Afghanistan for the WOT. I guess it depends on whether you believe the Administration’s claims (and would argue that the 9/11 reports support it. Eagerness on behalf of an Administration to pursue a steadfast foreign policy with national security in mind, while perhaps not prudent, is at least justifiable). I think it is also worthwhile to argue that whatever the second phase of the WOT, it would have become the hotbed for terrorist insurgency and much foreign angst towards the U.S. war doctrine in general (of which I care very little).

In the end, I think that it comes down to whether or not a WOT is legitimate. You, Steve, and I all seem to think it is. I think the one weakness that could be, but is not, argued against the WOT is whether it is in the country’s best interest at all(in terms of Executive War Powers (an enemy without a state), the monetary cost of a (possibly) limitless war, and the question of creating a priorty list weighed against whatever benefits may occur as a result of victory in such a war). However, events since the WOT have convinced me that such a war is definitely justified and worthwhile, and perhaps necessary. The abovementioned argument is not used because of the events that have followed. We are fighting a serious enemy and doing so will have consequences. The threat and violence will not end if we stop fighting.

OK, too long a post I know. Hopefully it makes some sense. Please tell me your thoughts.

Thanks for the response Fred, I appreciate your time. I honestly don’t know why we went into Iraq. I thought it was a bad thing before we went in and I’ve continued to think it was a bad idea for the past 4 years (in a few months Iraq will have gone on longer than our involvement in World War II). Saddam was much like Castro, contained. The US government might not have liked him being in power, but clearly the inspections worked (like many said they did). Sure, Saddam was a bad man, a really bad man, but there are lots of bad leaders out there killing their people and we don’t seem to get too worked up about it. Sudan is a great example and Osama bin Laden even spent a lot of time there at one point in his life. So, is/was Iraq connected to the war on terror, in my opinion it was a no then and is still a no now. The only reason I can see for not pulling all our troops out tomorrow is what Kate talked about in another thread, namely, creating "the killing fields". (Which we sort of did that time too, remember the Cambodian bombing?).

As an average american joe tax payer, I don’t see what the policy in Iraq has done for me, or for the Iraqi people or the world for that matter. There is absolutely nothing I can point to and say well at least we have that or prevented this. There were no weapons, there was no smoking gun. Oil production in Iraq is still below pre-invasion levels, and gas prices (and oil company profits) are up 100% (gas was $1.60 before the war and is $3.00 now). We’ve had some 30,000 casualties, spent $300 billion dollars, and we currently don’t have one brigade combat ready in the entire Army. With this effort and amount of money we could have fixed Social Security for the next 200 years, gone a long way to fixing our health care system and done a hell of a lot to secure chemical plants, train stations etc. to actually make us safer. Instead what do we have to show for it? Not much, a few purple fingers, and a lot of work for Halliburton.

As to whether it was the right decision at the time, that is above my pay grade. I’m sure that Bush Inc. sees some scrary crap, and that might make me want to bomb someone too. With that said, I think its clear that they were hyping the case for war -- and that it was a war they wanted before 9/11 even took place. I don’t think Bush had anything to do with 9/11, but I think 9/11 was desire meeting opportunity to do a lot of things that were on the republican agenda for some time (invade Iraq, expand executive power, etc.).

Hopefully the mid-term elections include more actual discussion about this other than "they want to cut and run" versus "I was before it before I voted against it". America deserves more on both accounts considering the cost that so many have paid, including the Iraqis.

I strongly disagree with your last 2 1/2 paragraphs. As for the rest, it is all fine to say so, but the fact of the situation remains: If a war on terror is legit, and the President acted on intel (though wrong) indicating Iraq was the proper next step in the WOT, then we were justified in the invasion. Now we are there, hindsight makes 20/20 (not to concede that even with the current data we wouldn’t be justified in our presence. But alas, that is another argument), but to pull out now would be devastating to the Iraqi people (assuming democracy is possible), the United States (wasted resources, champion of creating lost causes), and the WOT would effectively end with a certain (and perhaps devastating in the future) defeat.

The question remains though, in what tangible ways has the average u.s. citizen gained from Iraq? If I wanted to judge this conflict solely out of enlightened self-interest what possible reason would I have for supporting it?

My answer is probably clear, I think there are no tangible benefits, and in fact there are a lot of net losses...big and important net losses. I also agree with Colin Powell ("you break it, you own it") and you, that leaving now only makes those net losses even bigger.

There is, however, another question, which gets back to your original reasons for questioning the invasion to begin with, is a democratic Iraq even possible with American help? In other words, is our objective clear and obtainable, even with unlimited time, money and manpower? Also, (and this I think is critical), is it possible that the U.S. presence is part of the problem and not part of the solution?

In those terms, yes, I think it is possible. But it will be long term. It will be about an education, a government of ideas rather than a government of ethnicity, religion, land, race, etc. The problem is, such an education cannot take place with the level of violence going on right now. In this manner, stay the course is correct. However, as Professor Moser said in a prior thread, from a political standpoint, that saying is no longer enough. I was greatly encouraged when Iraqi’s that had been educated in the West (though the content of such an education is what matters) returned to Iraq in order to help build the new government. In light of such, the strategy has to be changed in an open and obvious way, but in a way that does not ever threaten to have forces removed before the objective is carried out.

My suggestions: increase troop presence, strike with more devestating blows after civilian warnings (similar to Israel in Lebanon against Hezbollah), and establish a firm control over the situation with very tough, sharp-toothed law. However, sovereignty was handed over and democratic elections took place. America’s ability to implement such procedures as a result are entirely restricted.

In response to your last question...the only scenario I can imagine where people may with fault say so, is if democracy cannot be established amongst a group of factions that have thus far failed to recognize that all men are created equal, and people unrightly argue America is to blame for the current state of affairs as a result of an impossible idealism. I say "faulty" and "unrightly" because such would imply that democratic possibilities are only possible through experience, whereas I believe the required principles are self-evident.

Abbie: This is America. Since when do we do anything based "solely out of enlightened self-interest?" And can you really imagine democratic self-rule in Iraq, right now or in the near future? I was serious about avoiding the moral problem of creating killing fields, which was not about bombing, but this, , what the Cambodians did to themselves after the US left. This is just what the Taliban had done in Afghanistan. Something similar would suely happen in Iraq.


Fred, if only democratic truths were self-evident to all men. Somehow, some people seem to remain blind. You say, yourself, that arranging for their self-government has limited our ability to help them establish stable government. This leaves us with what? Somehow finding the resolution to remain in the mess until it is sorted out? Neither of you are really saying "no" to that. You each merely seem to be differing on a level of regret at having to cope with the mess at all.

Kate


“You say, yourself, that arranging for their self-government has limited our ability to help them establish stable government. This leaves us with what?

It leaves us with a "mess."

Somehow finding the resolution to remain in the mess until it is sorted out? Neither of you are really saying “no” to that. You each merely seem to be differing on a level of regret at having to cope with the mess at all.

I disagree. Based on my discussion with Abbie, who earlier compared the war to the American Revolution (us being Great Britain), is trying to use rhetoric to prove her overall point. Her argument has basically gone as follows:

that America is bad for unjustly getting involved; that America, being bad, has hampered rather than helped the Iraqi people; that America having made the situation worse, cannot hope to fix things now; that America, not being able to fix things [conceding perhaps that the Iraqi people might not be able to rule themselves (individually as well as communally)], only makes things worse by its presence; that America, by making things worse, would be best to immediately withdraw its presence (conceding perhaps that to withdraw would be a huge loss and hurt the Iraqi people, but us being there makes it worse anyways, so when confronted with the choice, why not chose one immediate bad than continue to operate badly?)

My argument has mostly been the opposite of hers, with the exception of criticizing handing over sovereignty and early elections. But I maintain that the overall goal of democracy-spreading, while good, is naïve given the nature of the political world (considering both our electorate and the Iraqi culture). I maintain, however, that a War on Terror, within limits, is justifiable and good (but…if good democratic regimes cannot be set up in the countries where we dispose of despotic terrorism and terrorism alike, then friendly tyrannies would have to be set up; see “our electorate” above, in addition to prior unsuccessful attempts to do so). Pulling out now would be worse than staying there, so let’s test the Iraqi culture v. democratic theme (but…we have to do this with leaders that will make the choice…some will and some won’t…our leaders are based on…“our electorate,” so we have to change the appearance of strategy when things go stale)

I do regret with having to cope with the “mess” at all because I think it could have been done better. So this makes me what? Do you mean to say that by criticizing certain aspects of the war I only add to the discontent and further hinder the situation? If so, I would strongly disagree. Would it be better to blindly champion whatever decision is made, all for the sake of support? Of course not. I support the war. I criticize certain aspects of it because I support it and want things to be done in manner that will eventually best serve and protect American interests, American lives, and the Iraqi people. Things didn’t strategically happen in the manner I wish they would have, but that doesn’t mean the “mess” cannot be resolved, not does it mean that substantive strategy cannot be changed.

Fred, I am a he. Its late I’m tired, so one correction as to what you claim my position is: I don’t think America is "bad" for getting involved. I diagree with the way we got involved. Huge difference. There are a lot of ways to support a democratic Iraq that don’t involve a 10 year quagmire and massive loss of life and limb. Read more about Abbie Hoffman here

Sorry for the "her" Abbie, thanks for the link.

Also, perhaps I should have said, "America acted badly when they got invovled."

I know you, you were in Forrest Gump screaming the "f" word alot. A dead liberal icon returned from the grave to fight Republican right-wingers...this is an influential blog.

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