Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Blame Bush, before he blames You

Left blogistan continues to beat up on the war Democrats and the psuedo-liberal pundits, who gave Bush cover for his war in Iraq. I fear this campaign is, itself, an instance of bad judgement. It does not anticipate the Right-wing narrative -- in fact, it may enable the Right-wing "cut-and-run" narrative, by making Democrats critical to the decision to go to war, and by minimizing the importance of Bush's incompetence and corruption in making the Iraqi reconstruction an abject failure.

In my opinion, the opposition to Bush needs to emphasize the failure of the Iraqi reconstruction as THE critical factor in making Iraq unwinnable. The Democratic thesis should be: Bush made Iraq unwinnable by his corruption and incompetence, and the U.S. must withdraw because winning is no longer an option thanks to Bush and the Republican Right.

Criticizing the bad judgement of pundits is a distraction, which will end up enabling the "cut-and-run" narrative of the Right-wing, which will blame Democrats and Iraqis for the failure in Iraq, a failure, which ought to be entirely their own.

Unfortunately, many able Left bloggers continue to focus on the bad judgement of psuedo-liberal pundits and moderate Democrats, who went along with Bush. Atrios quotes Gary Sargent, who, in turn, is responding to Kevin Drum. All are engaging in this critique of the judgement of Democrats and non-Republican pundits on the decision to go to war. The critique is spot on, on its own terms; I would not call it pointless, since it has a very sharp point; but, it is ultimately going to be strategically misguided, dividing the Left, as the larger dialogue with the Right goes on its merry way.

Atrios quoting Gary Sargent: "The decision to support or oppose the Iraq war wasn't about doctrine. It was about judgment. Many of those who backed the war fell prey not to ideology, but to a massive judgment failure."

Here's the thing: the political problem of the moment is to assemble a stable political majority, who reject Bush and the Republican Right along with him. That means finding a position, which people with radically different temperments, ideologies and points of view can arrive at and agree upon; moreover, it means establishing as "givens" (axiomatic conventional wisdom) certain facts about the past, which will prevent a majority from coalescing around the opposite political pole.

The opposite political pole is obvious, even if its actual, material existence is a couple of years in the future. It is the view that "we lost Iraq" because the Democrats did not have the will to win, and forced the country to "cut and run". It is a variant of the age-old stab-in-the-back theory, which has served right-wing causes since the beginning of time.

Focusing on the role of Bush corruption and incompetence in "losing Iraq" serves a prophylactic purpose, with regard to the Democrats-made-us-do-it cut-and-run thesis.

"Democrats supported the war and then Democrats changed their minds, we cut and ran, and lost Iraq" is the narrative sequence, which the Republican Right will use. We absolutely need to push "Bush corruption and incompetence made Iraq unwinnable", because universal knowledge of Bush corruption and incompetence in Iraq, and its role in making Iraq a hopeless cause, innoculates against "cut-and-run".

I know that many people wish that we could innoculate, instead, against foolish arrogant adventurism, or even against war and aggression. Iraq will serve that purpose as well as it can for a generation, regardless of whether the poor judgement of pundits, press and war Democrats is sufficiently indicted, or not.

But, a lot of people are tempermentally unprepared to endorse the thesis that anything is impossible. It is practically un-American to embrace the idea that something, anything is so impossibly difficult, that it is better not tried, especially if that nearly impossible thing is something idealistic and heroic in scope. To buy into the idea that the Iraq project should not have been tried, a person has to be willing to overcome this deep, cultural committment to a mythic ideal of the impossible dream. We are not going to overcome that cultural committment, that ideological tenet of Americanism, in a majority. A thesis, which requires the embrace of Iraq-was-impossible-and-should-never-have-been-tried, however accurate and practical and sensible, is a non-starter with some people, because of their psychological committment to the idea that "nothing is impossible."

In the case of the Iraq war, it may be that it was a bad idea from the outset, and it may be a good thing, if the American historical memory absorbs the wisdom that some things are not worth gambling on. Caution may need to be re-transplanted into the American character, and certainly into American foreign policy. But, whether Iraq was a bad gamble from the outset, it was made a failure with certainty by the conduct of the Bush Administration. Corruption and incompetence made failure in Iraq inevitable, even if failure was not inevitable from the outset.

Ultimately, it was right-wing Republicans, who made this war, and made it unwinnable. Better to attack them. They are the enemy. Democrats with poor judgement are, sadly or not, among the good guys.

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