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.