Thomas Friedman’s column on Iraq in today’s New York Times raises a couple of rather pertinent questions: does the Bush administration really have a strategy for a successful end-game? And if not, does anyone else?It’s increasingly obvious that the administration’s happy-talk about Iraq–most notably Dick Cheney’s claim that the latest upsurge in violence is the insurgency’s “last throes”–is mendacious stonewalling of the worst kind. There are a lot of theories kicking around about the administration’s actual thinking. One is the idea that it’s simply waiting for the approval of a fully constitutional Iraqi government this fall before finally announcing an intention to begin withdrawing U.S. troops. Another is the belief, suggested by my colleague The Moose, that the Bushies have entered a full LBJ Vietnam mode, in which they are imprisoned by past decisions and are simply blundering ahead without vision or hope.Either way, what should the rest of us think or propose? To be sure, most Democrats, whether or not they supported the original decision to to invade Iraq, have generally supported the proposition that failure to secure the country and create a decent opportunity for a stable democratic regime would be a terrible setback for America and its interests. And to be sure, Democrats don’t have much responsibility for the horrendous series of misteps by the Bush administration that have led us to this unhappy juncture in Iraq. But simply calling for U.S. withdrawal on a fixed timetable unrelated to the political situation in Iraq, as many Democrats are beginning to do, simply compounds the administration’s irresponsibility and reinforces the Bush/Rove/Rumsfeld argument that theirs in the only alternative to retreat and surrender.Friedman argues that critics of the administration should propose “doubling the boots on the ground” in Iraq to shake up the current drift towards chaos and give the Iraqi government a once-and-for-all chance to force Shia and Sunni leaders to pick sides and commit themselves to a pluralistic democracy. Given the Pentagon’s struggles to support the current level of deployment, I don’t think this is a lively option.But Friedman’s demand that we all stop staring at polling data on Iraq and have a real debate on what we propose to do is salutory. If the administration is unwilling to engage in that debate, then it should be forced upon them by Congress and the country. My own small insight is that perhaps we should begin to make reduction of the American presence a political prize for all the factions in Iraq–an incentive for Sunni support of the government, and a source of credibility for the government itself. Perhaps that’s where the administration is headed, but if so, they need to say so, to Iraqis, and to Americans as well.The time for happy talk is over. Iraqis aren’t buying it, and neither are Americans. It should be easy for Democrats–and increasingly, for many Republicans–to unite in a demand for a real plan.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
June 7: “Independent Charismatics” Becoming an Evangelical Firewall for Trump
Another religion and politics topic came up in my reading, so I discussed it at New York:
Everyone covering Republican presidential politics knows how important a force conservative Evangelical Christians are in that party, particularly in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. So it has become routine to examine GOP politicians for their adherence to various issue positions of presumed significance to these voters, and to their pulpit-based leaders.
That’s still well worth doing at a time when the culture-war issues so closely associated with religious conservatives are red-hot topics in American politics, and of great importance to many of the most likely voters in the Republican presidential primaries. Clearly, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Tim Scott are particularly focused on letting conservative Evangelicals know how committed they are to the battle against legalized abortion, LGBTQ rights, “woke” corporations, and government impingements on “religious liberty.” These candidates are intensely determined to prove they are more faithful to the agenda of the Christian right than their front-running rival Donald Trump.
But there are two major problems with any sort of by-the-numbers effort to flip conservative Evangelicals against Trump. First, these voters have an abiding sense of gratitude for what Trump has already done for them. Second, Trump himself is deeply tied to the religious views of a growing subset of Christian Evangelicals.
As the 45th president frequently reminds conservative Christian audiences, he was the first Republican president to redeem decades of promises to secure the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the abolition of federal constitutional abortion rights. And more generally, Trump discarded decades of embarrassed Republican efforts to downplay cultural issues in pursuit of upscale swing voters favoring moderation and compromise on topics that Evangelicals considered matters of eternal and immutable principle. He was firmly the enemy of the enemies of the people in the pews, and smote them hip and thigh unscrupulously. It will take more than a slightly higher rating on the latest set of litmus tests laid out by conservative religious leaders for mere politicians to match the founder of the MAGA movement in the esteem of voters who really do want to turn back the clock to a “greater” America.
The second element of Trump’s Evangelical primary firewall is the significant and rapidly growing subset of American Evangelicals whose view of politics and its relationship to religion cannot be captured by mere policy issues. Trump plays a larger-than-life role in a supernatural drama of good and evil that many of these believers embrace via the teachings of a new set of “prophetic” teachers and preachers, as religious scholar Matthew Taylor explains:
“Trump’s most ardent Christian advocates are nondenominational Charismatic evangelicals, a group sometimes referred to by academics as Independent Charismatics or Independent Network Charismatic Christians.
“Independent Charismatics emphasize a modern, supernaturally driven worldview where contemporary prophets speak directly for God; miracles are everyday experiences; menacing demonic forces must be pushed back through prayer; and immersive, ecstatic worship experiences bolster Christian believers’ confidence that they are at the center of God’s work in the world. These believers are country cousins to the more denominationally aligned Pentecostal evangelicals, though the lack of denominational oversight and the freewheeling nature of the independent Charismatic sector leaves them more vulnerable to radicalization.”
Many Independent Charismatics have been radicalized by the passions unleashed by Trump and the conflicts he has engendered. Cultural warfare is for them spiritual warfare in which Trump is literally an agent of the divine will. Independent Charismatics are notably active in Trump-adjacent groups like the ReAwaken America Tour, in which pardoned former Trump lieutenants Roger Stone and Michael Flynn have been conspicuous participants, and a newer group called Pastors for Trump. The 45th president is an irreplaceable and heroic figure in the apocalyptic cosmologies of such groups, who aren’t about to replace him with some other Republican politician, no matter what more orthodox Evangelicals say or think. Specific political “issues” are very small in their reckoning of God’s destiny for America.
So within the legions of conservative Evangelicals engaged in American politics, Trump has charismatic shock troops whom he can count on to stick with him as though their lives — indeed, their souls — depend on it. If you add in the Evangelicals who uniquely trust Trump for keeping his promises to them and are grateful for his reshaping of the U.S. Supreme Court to make it a powerful allied force, you can see why he’s not as vulnerable to raids on this base of support as you might imagine from the boasts of his rivals that they are nearer to God than he is.