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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Simplism is as simplism does

The issue of Clark’s supposed flip-flop on the war is as Josh Marshall says part of the media’s apparent embrace of “simplism as the new integrity.” Clark made the mistake of speaking to political reporters in complex terms instead of bumper sticker slogans, which is akin to accidentally saying the F word in front of a group of 4 year olds --- they don’t understand what you’re saying but you know they’re going to embarrass you by repeating it.

He went some way toward fixing that today in the debate by joking good-naturedly, “in my 9 days in politics I’ve learned never to answer a hypothetical question.”

As Franklin Foer points out in his article on the subject in TNR, Bush made a case that he needed the resolution to convince the UN that America was serious in wanting Saddam to “disarm.” Most people believed that Saddam had at least a usable cache of biological or chemical weapons --- he certainly had acted as if he had something to hide. If you took Bush at his word, it appeared that he wanted to use the threat of military force to make Saddam allow inspectors back in under the imprimatur of the UN because he might let those weapons get into the hands of terrorists.

According to Foer:

[at the time] Tom Daschle argued, "I am not confident that they will not see it as a green light, which is why I admonished the administration to remember this is the first step." Clark may be naïve for sharing this stance, and it may reveal him to be less of a dove than many liberals imagined, but it doesn't make him a flip-flopper.

I’m not surprised that a former military man would fall into the camp of those who voted for the resolution. That camp consisted of 28 of the 50 Democrats in the Senate (including such right wingers as Tom Harkin and Chris Dodd) so it isn’t exactly an exotic position. And in the 50/50 Senate it was going to pass as long as Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman still had a breath in their bodies.

(I thought it was stupid and cynical for any Democrat who wasn’t in a tightly contested race in the south to take that position because I believed it would depress turnout in the mid-terms and we would lose the Senate --- and I was right.)

I don’t trust Bush as far as I can throw him, so I can’t imagine voting to support any war he wants to wage unless it is in direct retaliation for attacking us first --- like Afghanistan. Especially with Don Strangelove and Dick Razputin running the show. And, I think some of the safe seat presidential contenders made a bad political calculation that was obviously wrong. But I grant that it wasn’t an easy call for those who had to actually make it. And it most certainly wasn’t simple.

I wrote at the time that Bush would get credit for running the most courageous bluff in history if he had the guts to take yes for an answer and allow the inspections to run their course and keep Saddam on a leash. Bush had said, "If you want to keep the peace, you've got to have the authorization to use force," and rather than tossing it off as the usual incoherent gibberish, many believed that this statement meant he was trying to force Saddam's hand without actually invading.

But, neither the Senators nor General Clark had any idea how much George W. Bush was dying to shimmy into a skintight jumpsuit and prance around an aircraft carrier like a Chippendales dancer. Now they do.