This is a post I wanted to do yesterday; but then decided I didn’t want to profane the Fourth by writing anything political. For at least one day a year, we ought to be able to show some unity.But I just finished reading Larry Diamond’s fascinating and disturbing book: Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort To Bring Democracy To Iraq. And it left me absolutely livid about the fact that Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense.You should read Diamond’s book; if you don’t have time, he wrote an earlier and much briefer version of his basic argument in Foreign Affairs last fall.Diamond, probably America’s top expert on democracy-building, spent several months working for the Coalition Provisional Authority (the Pentagon-run U.S. occupation entity) in early 2004. And he came away with an indictment of the early and continuing mistakes, mostly attributable to Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides, that we and the Iraqis continue to pay for today.Most of his litany of errors is familiar, but Diamond puts them, and their consequences, together in a way that takes your breath away. Totally aside from the decision to invade in the first place (which Diamond opposed), Rumsfeld’s Big Mistake was his stubborn determination to go into Iraq with about one-third the number of troops that every military and civilian expert told him would be necessary to secure the country. As a result, Coalition troops could do little or nothing to deal with (a) the systematic looting and lawlessness that destroyed what was left of Iraqi civil authority, and paralyzed the economy; (b) a massive influx across unprotected borders of Iranian and Sunni Jihadist agents and fighters; (c) the formation of a vast array of sectarian armed militias, fueled by another bad administration decision to disband the Iraqi army; (d) a decisive erosion of Coalition credibility among Kurds and Shi’a who remember their abandonment by the U.S. to Saddam’s vicious reprisals after the First Gulf War; and (e) a security situation that made reconstruction efforts physically impossible.Aside from that Big Mistake, Diamond catalogues a bunch of subsequent blunders, including an inability to take seriously and accomodate the pro-democracy views of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, probably the most important figure in Iraq; an abrupt 180-degree shift in policy from a breezy assumption that the U.S. could turn Iraq over to exiles like Ahmed Chalabi, to a reluctance to relinquish control at all; and a consisent pattern of doing the right thing, if at all, several months too late.Even the famous “purple-finger” election of January 2005, Diamond says, carried the potential seeds of disaster, thanks to a Bush administration decision in favor of a national proportional representation system, with no provision for local districts. This decision guaranteed Sunni under-representation in Iraq’s first popularly elected government, while eliminating any incentive for the kind of inter-communal political parties that might have emerged in mixed-population areas of the country.Diamond hasn’t give up hope about prospects for the ultimate emergence of a stable Iraqi government, but has laid out an urgent series of U.S. policy changes (which the DLC recently endorsed) necessary to make it possible, including a decisive repudiation of the idea that we want a permanent military presence there.We all know George W. Bush cannot admit mistakes, though he is capable, now and then, of unacknowledged flip-flops. His single biggest mistake with respect to Iraq, before, during and after the invasion, was his and Dick Cheney’s categorical trust in Donald Rumsfeld and the people around him. I for one will have trouble expecting things to get better in Iraq until such time as Rummy walks the plank. Maybe the White House will suddenly announce that Rumsfeld is desperately needed for another job–perhaps some presidential commission on what the military should look like if and when we colonize space. After all, they’ve already found ways to offload Wolfowitz, Feith and Bolton.But any way you look at it, Rummy’s got to go, especially if this president ever intends to make something other than a very bad joke of his 2000 pledge to introduce “a responsibility era.”
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
In looking at the trajectory of the 2022 midterms, I noted at New York a theory that suggests we’d better get used to close elections that defy history:
With six weeks to go until Election Day, the midterms aren’t unfolding as we all expected earlier this year, when Republicans were better than even money to retake the Senate and a lead-pipe cinch to flip the House by a substantial margin. There are, of course, plenty of reasons you can cite for this change in the political climate, from the backlash to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision to somewhat better economic news to Donald Trump’s continued presence on the campaign trail to bad GOP-candidate selection. It’s nerve-racking, of course, because with Democrats holding the slightest of majorities in both congressional chambers, very small micro-trends in just a few states or districts could have enormous consequences for the parties and for the country (the consequences extend, of course, to state-level positions, not just governors but election-supervising secretaries of State).
“In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck write that American politics has become more polarized and calcified. Events and the responses to them from politicians no longer have the ability to deeply and fundamentally reshape our politics or political coalitions. ‘Voters and leaders in the two major parties are not only more ideologically distant from each other but also more likely to describe each other in harsh terms,’ they write. ‘In the fall of 2020, 90 percent of Americans said there were important differences in what the parties stood for — the highest number recorded in almost 70 years of American National Election Study surveys.’
“Moreover, they write, voters are ‘less likely to change their basic political evaluations or vote for the other party’s candidate.’ This calcification of our partisanship ‘produces rigidity in our politics — even when dramatic events suggest the potential for big changes.’
“In other words, if every election is an existential fight, then every election will be close. Or, as the Democratic strategist told me, ‘notably competitive.’”
If true, this would mean not only fewer “persuadable” swing voters to produce big shifts in the results from election to election, but likely a reduction in the sorts of “enthusiasm gaps” thought to affect partisan turnout patterns in the past. Elections would be more like a series of huge pre-mobilized armies meeting in a series of huge clashes with no prisoners taken (and little cooperation across party lines between elections). Even if that’s an exaggeration of the degree of gridlock from which our government and our electorate is suffering, we might truly be entering a period in which swings in party voting are limited. And as Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck note, the “calcification” of party and ideological divisions can become self-perpetuating:
“Calcified politics and partisan parity combine to produce a self-reinforcing cycle. When control of government is always within reach, there is less need for the losing party to adapt and recalibrate. And if it stays on the same path, voters have little reason to revise their political loyalties.”
To be clear, very close elections can have variable outcomes. And in our winner-take-all system, the stakes will remain high. It will obviously make a great deal of difference which party wins the White House in 2024. Control of the Senate, moreover, depends as much on near-accidents of landscape than on the overall voting strength of the two parties, since only one-third of senators face voters each cycle. Democrats are benefiting from a modestly positive Senate landscape this year. Republicans should have a big Senate advantage in 2024. There is no guarantee either party can muster a governing “trifecta” in the future. As Republicans learned in 2017–18 and Democrats have learned in 2021–22, a trifecta isn’t all that if you can’t rigidly discipline all your troops all the time.
When white-knuckle time arrives just before Election Day this year, the odds are pretty good there will remain a lot of uncertainty about exactly what will happen when the votes are all counted (assuming we can get bipartisan buy-in on the results as officially certified, which is hardly a safe assumption at present). If Democrats managed to hold onto both congressional chambers, they may well feel vindicated by voters and go on to undertake an ambitious agenda in the next two years. More likely we will have a return to divided government and even more uncertainty and gridlock as we enter still another momentous election cycle.