Friday, August 26, 2005
Expecting Different Results
I'm sure I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but as Dear Leader says "you gotta catapault the propaganda." Therefore, I hope you'll bear with me reiterating an earlier point as I discuss Wes Clark's WaPo op-ed.
I am, as many of you know, a fan of Clark's. I thought he would have made a good president, although I can see now that he isn't a real member of the club and would have had a terrible time navigating Washington as a politician at this point in history. (It's not that he doesn't know Washington, it's that he wasn't properly anointed. The Clinton's may have backed him, but let's not forget that the Clintons are considered tres nouveau establishment and are hardly to be trusted in such matters.) In any case, I'm always interested in what he has to say on Iraq because from the early days of the debacle, he was pounding on the fact that the military's mission was to secure the country for political ends --- which were never entirely clear.
Today he writes a very intriguing critique of Bush's mistakes and offers some solutions. Both Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias have some interesting criticisms of his plan, saying it is not all that realistic and he doesn't adequately explain how he would accomplish certain things.
To that I say, "right on Wes." This op-ed is not actually a policy document --- it is a political document. As I've been pointing out for a while, all Democratic navel gazing on this political. Wes Clark cannot actually implement any policy and neither could any elected Democrats. So, unless you believe that George W. Bush read Wes's column this morning over his bowl of Cap'n Crunch and thought "great ideas! get me Condi and Rummy on the horn!" this whole thing is an academic exercise.
I believe that there is a less than zero possibility that George W. Bush is going to implement any sane plan to withdraw from Iraq, much less one set forth by a Democratic presidential aspirant. And I say this with the greatest assurance that I'm right for the simple reason that George W. Bush has failed on every level, at every moment, from the very beginning to do anything right on Iraq. Why in God's name would we think that he will suddenly become sane and do something different today?
And even if they change course, there is no evidence that the Bush administration could then implement a plan with any more competence than they have anything else. The heartbreaking truth of the matter is that as long as Iraq is in the hands of the Bush administration and the Republicans, it is fucked. Period. That means that all Democratic policy prescriptions are essentially political positioning for the elections. I wish it weren't so, but it is.
Therefore, Clark's piece should be seen for what it is --- laying a benchmark for Bush's failure. By the time any Democrats have a chance to implement any real plans for Iraq, Wes's plan will be moot. The doors that he sees as still being slightly open are closing very rapidly. The state of play in 2006 and 2008 is going to be very different. But it's useful for Wes Clark, retired General, to be on the record with an alternative in 2005 that clearly lays blame on the Bush administration and sets forth in exactly what ways they've failed -- militarily, politically and diplomatically. He ends his op-ed with this:
If the administration won't adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that it bring our troops home.
He knows very well that the admnistration can't adopt a winning strategy. They have burned their bridges with the international community, they don't believe in diplomacy, they are willing to shitcan the fundamental democratic principles of an Iraqi constitution to get a temporary bump in the public opinion polls. If they truly wanted to change course they would not have installed a madman at the UN whose first order of business is to start tearing up international treaties. They are continuing to fight their war for US hegemony on the world stage, Republican hegemony in American politics and Executive hegemony within the government. The "war on terrorism" and Iraq are merely staging areas.
I happen to think that Bush has already "lost" the war in Iraq and that we should stage a tactical retreat fairly quickly. But Clark will likely be running for office and he wants to stake out a position that the Republicans are incompetent to wage war and I understand that. Democrats have to persuade the public that they are better at protecting the country than the Republicans and it's a daunting task. Clark's voice is essential to that task.
If we had the ability to get Bush to pull out tomorrow, I'd say Clark was wrong to agitate for a "winning strategy." Since we don't, I think he's making a smart political move. When the next election comes around, the Democrats can say "If Bush had done what Wes Clark said we should do back in '05, maybe he could have salvaged the huge mistake we made by going into Iraq. But he lost the war instead and now we have no choice but to pull the troops out. We are a strong country and we will do fine. But we desperately need new leadership. The Republicans have failed."
The fact that people continue to think that Bush might do the right thing leads me to this article in The Observer (via Rick Perlstein) that analyzes the angst of the liberal hawks as they watch Iraq spiral quickly into a quagmire:
“Someone wrote that you knew who the surgeon would be, so you knew what the operation would look like. And there’s some truth to that. I was not as aware as I should have been of just how mendacious and incompetent the surgeon was going to be,” said Mr. Packer by telephone from his office at The New Yorker on a recent afternoon. “At the time, in March 2003, you had to make a choice: Are you going to say yes or no to this thing? Of course, it didn’t matter—it was going to happen no matter what you said—but in an existential sense, you wanted to be counted."
“The people on the right cannot possibly be feeling the kind of dissonance that liberal supporters are feeling. It’s not a simple matter to live with, I have to tell you,” said Mr. Wieseltier, whose name appeared on a letter to Mr. Bush urging the removal of Saddam Hussein in late 2001, and who said that the U.S. shouldn’t cut and run. “I think that it is impossible, even for someone who supported the war, or especially for someone who did, not to feel very bitter about the way it has been conducted and the way it has been explained.”
This is where I am continually left speechless. In March 2003 we already knew that the Republicans were mendacious enough to stage a phony impeachment and steal an election. And we also knew that the brand name in an empty suit they call a president was a fool and that the people who were backing the war had been wrong about every single big ticket foreign policy issue since the mid 70's. We knew that the Democratic Senators who voted for the war resolution were re-fighting Gulf War I where many Democrats were ignominiously shown to be losers when they voted against a war that we went on to gloriously win. They were scared of being on the wrong side again. (And they blew it --- again.)
Long before March 2003, I knew this. I'm nobody. And here you have these people who call themselves liberal intellectuals who were evidently taken in by a man who spoke in comic book dialog, a Laurie Mylroie friendly foreign policy team that was nuttier than fruitcakes and a mission being sold as a cakewalk that was to any lowly layman's eye the most daunting nation building task since WWII. Their delusional, unilateral preventive war doctrine alone should have been enough to jolt any self-respecting liberal into keeping his distance.
For some writers who were accustomed to speaking only to tiny audiences clustered on the coasts, the invasion of Iraq and its implications presented an opportunity to actually influence something. It was a career-making moment for theorists who had cut their teeth in Bosnia and who were ready to test out their newly formed vision of American force as a tool to promote democracy and human rights and prevent genocide. It made media stars of academics like Mr. Feldman, who prior to the war was merely an “assistant professor who had been teaching for one year,” according to him, and the human-rights expert Michael Ignatieff of Harvard, who wrote various Iraq analyses for The New York Times Magazine. Writers such as Mr. Wieseltier, Mr. Berman and Mr. Hitchens were profiled admiringly in the months before the war, held up as avant-garde prophets.
The reality was something else altogether. The Iraq invasion has proven to be a true reporters’ war—far too dangerous for anyone not embedded with the Marines or carefully tucked away inside The New York Times’ Baghdad bunker to navigate. And not only has the Bush administration carried out the war and the occupation based on reasons which turned out to be greatly misrepresented, prompting a flurry of “I told you so’s” in certain circles, but it has flouted many of the key recommendations put forth by the liberal hawks, which had made their war support possible in the first place.
On what planet did liberals think that the modern Republican party gave a flying fuck about what they thought about anything? It certainly wasn't planet earth circa 2003. Bush had just recaptured the Senate and was striding around the country, codpiece bursting, proclaiming to the entire world that he didn't care what they thought. Did liberal intellectuals actually believe some fantasy that Bush could blow off Europe and ultimately the entire security council but listen to them? My God.
Why are people so unwilling to admit what they are seeing before their eyes, even today? The Republican party is corrupt, incompetent and drunk with power. And no matter what their intentions, they are incapable of setting things right. We have seen this over and over again.
Yet still I see a flurry of earnest discussion about how we should deal with Iraq and what plans should be implemented --- as if they have real world implications. They do not. As I wrote earlier, I think there is political value in doing this as it pertains to positioning for the next election. But I have no illusions, and never have, that anyone in the Bush administration gives a damn what we think or will follow any policy advice from liberals, hawks or otherwise. They do not operate that way.
I don't believe in purges or demands for disavowels; they have a faint whiff of Stalinism that rubs me the wrong way. Nobody has to apologise to me for what they believed about the war. But, considering that their credibility is more than a little bit tattered, it would probably be a good idea if the liberal intellectuals who backed the war finally recognized that everything they say and do is being used for political fodder and adjust their thinking and writing accordingly. They are not going to affect Bush administration policy. There is still a chance they could affect politics, however, if they will just stop pretending that the Republicans are operating on a logical basis in which they can find some common ground.
I think this is where we separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls. If, after all you've seen these last five years you still believe that the Bush administration can be given the benefit of the doubt, that they will do the right thing, change course, follow sage advice, reevaluate their strategy, bow to the facts on the ground --- then you have the same disease the Bush administration has. As Ben Franklin said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
digby 8/26/2005 11:33:00 AM