Honest Debate, Politics, and Victory

Thomas Barnett expresses his frustration that everything he writes gets interpreted through political lenses and, especially, “as some grubby plea for attention from Dem candidates” when in fact he’s a moderate Republican who’s simply disgusted by the Bush Administration’s handling of foreign policy.

People are misinterpreting my praise for the Dems tying Bush’s hands. I expect the Dems to be what they are: the opposition. I do not expect them to come up with better plans. That’s not how our system works or has ever really worked. I expect Bush to come up with a better plan on the basis on the effective resistance from the opposition. I don’t expect Congress to determine U.S. foreign policy.

What’s so frustrating right now is that Bush was told by the Iraq Study Group what the logical way ahead should look like, and despite the showy bits here and there, he’s continued to blow off their recommendations completely. I find that deeply troubling after the beating he took in the midterms, especially since the GOP hierarchy stacked the ISG deck just to make it easier.

Of course, Bush may simply have come to the honest conclusion that the ISG recommendations were a thinly disguised surrender to the “forces of disconnectedness” that Bush and Barnett agree are the real enemy. Indeed, I know of few serious analysts who though the ISG provided a roadmap to victory.

Barnett’s right, though, about the way the system works. At most, Congress can force a president to moderate or rethink his policies. Congress has neither the institutional power nor the staffing resources to do much more than that.

The peril of public intellectualism in the context of a permanent campaign cycle and the hyper-partisanship of the modern era is that everything is viewed in political terms. It’s virtually impossible to have an intelligent, public discussion of complex and controversial issues without it being seen as either carrying water for the administration or traitorous disloyalty to the cause.

My friend Marc Danziger, better known on the Web as “Armed Liberal,” is seeing the same thing from the opposite side of the aisle. He is a self-described “liberal Democrat (pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, pro-progressive taxation, pro-equal rights, pro-environmental regulation, pro-public schools) who supported and supports the war in Iraq.” He’s also frustrated with the current debate and trying to do his part by creating Victory PAC, which is raising money to “help candidates who oppose sudden withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and who bring effective and genuinely new ideas on how to resolve the wider global conflict those wars are a part of.” It’s a nascent effort–launched just this weekend–and will likely be used to give seed money to “pro-victory candidates” in the Democratic primaries.

I’m holding off on support for now for a variety of reasons. I’m generally leery of moving from punditry to activism; have thus far declined to endorse any groups that endorse a wide range of candidates because I’ll invariably disagree with specific choices; and am ethically uncomfortable with intervening in the selection of Democratic candidates beyond simple analysis since, at the end of the day, I will almost certainly vote Republican.

Still, I applaud the motivation behind the effort. It’s imperative that the Iraq War debate be conducted based on the national security interests of the United States rather than in terms of partisan politics.

Plenty of analysts I respect, including Barnett, think it’s time to pull the plug on the war. That’s a perfectly legitimate position to have. Indeed, four years into the effort with little sign of impending victory, it’s not surprising that the consensus desire of the American public is for it all to be over with. I remain convinced that because, of “the tragic consequences that would follow” defeat–and leaving with Iraq in its present condition would unquestionably be that–we should continue to fight on as long as there’s a chance of winning.

Regardless, the debate should be conducted on those grounds. It’s impossible to take the politics out of politics, of course. But we should resist casting those with honorable differences as “traitors” or presuming partisan political motivation for their views.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Iraq War, National Security, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Heritage Tidbits. + postpolitical linked My “a-ha” on the Settling the West analogy/metaphor. + Nick Guariglia mentioned Tom and the SysAdmin. + Dave Porter promotes learning Chinese, with Tom as inspiration. + Outside the Beltway linked Bush’s post-presidency means we all move on. + Ben and Faye’s Eurasian Adventure mention Tom and his position on China. + Live from Zion says PNM is amazing. + Civil War Bookshelf thinks this weblog is ‘frivolous to the point of being

  2. Did General Petraeus Snub Congressional Democrats? Beltway Traffic Jam Instant Communication Destroying Battlefield Morale? Our Bombers Are Awesome, So Let’s Replace Them Supreme Court Denies Gitmo Habeas Appeals 10 Reasons You Aren’t Rich Honest Debate, Politics, and Victory Grading Presidential Candidate Videos [IMG OTB Sports] 2007 Predictions: Award and Standings Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Derrick Brooks to chair Physical Fitness committee Phil Jackson and Roy Williams Elected to Hall of Fame

  3. This also reflects many of the problems with most polls as they relate to the Bush administration and Iraq. My friends on the anti-war (using their preferred term) side of the street should realize that just because I’m unhappy with Bush or the conduct of the war in Iraq it does not follow that I agree with you.

    “In it to win it,” seems like such a catchy phrase when Senators Clinton and Obama use it. Surely it must apply at least equally well with Iraq.

  4. Anon says:

    Maybe a group of bloggers should sign a joint declaration, along the lines of:

    I am a conservative/Republican, but:

    I do not think you are a traitor if you oppose the Iraq war,
    I do not think you hate America when you criticize the Bush administration,
    …etc.

    I am a liberal/Democrat, but:

    I do not think you are a baby-killer if you favor the Iraq war,
    I do not think you own Halliburton stock if you support the Bush administration,
    I do not think you are a racist if you oppose affirmative action,
    …etc.

  5. Bithead says:

    Plenty of analysts I respect, including Barnett, think it’s time to pull the plug on the war. That’s a perfectly legitimate position to have. Indeed, four years into the effort with little sign of impending victory, it’s not surprising that the consensus desire of the American public is for it all to be over with.

    Yet the question must be asked, how much of that image is the Democrat anti-war campaign come home to roost? I suspect rather a lot.

    I’m generally leery of moving from punditry to activism;

    (Sigh) Since we seem to be dancing on the head of a definition….

    pun·dit·ry /ˈpÊŒndɪtri/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[puhn-di-tree] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    —noun the opinions or methods of pundits.

    ——————————————————————————–

    [Origin: 1925—30; pundit + -ry]
    Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
    Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
    American Heritage Dictionary – Cite This Source pun·dit (pÅ­n’dÄ­t) Pronunciation Key
    n.
    A source of opinion; a critic: a political pundit.
    A learned person.
    Hinduism Variant of pandit.

    So, if you engage in Punditry, you’re expressing and arging for your opinion, even if you’ve not FORMED an opinion yet. Once you DO form an opinion, and express it and argue for it, you’ve already made the transition to activism for your own POV.

    Now, if that POV happens to go along with one candidate or the other…

  6. Bithead says:

    Hmmm. First one didn’t go. No idea why.

    Look; the very definition of Pundit involves the renering of your opinion. You’re already an activist for your own POV thereby. On taht basis you could eb called biased if you happen to agree with one candidate or another…. even if you didn’t particularly support said candidate

  7. James Joyner says:

    You’re already an activist for your own POV thereby.

    Sure. But it’s a far cry from that to using one’s forum as a fundraising platform and otherwise using it to advance political goals. It’s not so much about charges of “bias” but about conflicting interests.

    As an analyst, I’m free to support Bush over Kerry for president while at the same time criticizing Bush policies or pointing out that specific charges against Kerry are unfair. As an activist, those roles conflict.

  8. Bithead says:

    I suppose it all a matter of degree, frankly. But we none of us are virgins, in the end. I’ve always held that there are no objective observers. An impartial press is an impossibility on the scale of freeze-dried water.

    Then again, neither you or I have laid claim to impartiality.

  9. Jim Henley says:

    Yet the question must be asked, how much of that image is the Democrat anti-war campaign come home to roost? I suspect rather a lot.

    No, that was me!

    Sheesh.

  10. spencer says:

    I make no bones about it, I am an old fashion 1960s liberal. I have no problem with going to war in Iraq to establish a client state and a military footprint in the mid east. I actually think it is a very good idea since Bush appeased Ben Laden by meeting his number one demand by pulling out troops out of Sandia Arabia — and people wonder why there has not been a second attack on the US since 9/11.

    What I have trouble with is losing that war because this administration thinks its tax cuts for the wealthy are more important then providing the military with the resources they need to win the war.

    the people who are not supporting the troops are the republicans who insist on sending our troops to war without giving them the resources they need to win the war.

    I challenge you to show me a single analysis that shows my position is incorrect.

    Is is not the democrats who say end this war that are the traitors, it is the republicans who refuse to properly fund the war. If the republican refuse to give the troops the resources they need to win, why shouldn’t the democrats say to leave?

  11. Bithead says:

    Refused to properly from the war, Gracie?
    Just to do you think is in power, at the moment?