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
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.