Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal threw down a blunt challenge last night to Democrats who don’t support an early fixed date for withdrawal from Iraq, basically suggesting they don’t have a clue about what to do and simply don’t want to appear “weak” for cynical political reasons. He cited my last post–a brief discussion and link to a couple of New Republic articles–as evidence of this cluelessness, if not the cynicism.Well, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to write about Iraq without articulating a full-blown plan for the country, but speaking only for myself, yeah, I have a few thoughts about what we should say and do, based in part on Larry Diamond’s long-standing recommendations:1) Publicly announce the United States is abandoning any plans for permanent military bases in Iraq to make it absolutely clear our presence is temporary.2) Publicly announce benchmarks that will trigger withdrawal of American troops, including approval of a constitution and election of a permanent government; specific levels of trained Iraqi troops and other security forces; and renunciation of demands by major Iraqi communities that are incompatible with a stable and pluralistic regime (e.g., Kurdish right to secede, Sunni Arab privileges in a strong central government, Iranian-style Islamic Republic).3) Initiate direct negotiations with insurgents.4) Renounce any public or private-sector U.S. designs for control of Iraqi natural resources5) Launch an internationalized reconstruction effort which explicitly renounces U.S. exclusive privileges, with special attention to assistance from Sunni Arab countriesThe goal would be to leave Iraq with a half-decent chance of maintaining a sustainable government without civil war, foreign domination, or a permament base of operations and recruitment for al Qaeda. The main strategy would be to convince, through carrots and sticks, the Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shi’a to step back from their maximalist demands, while creating trans-communal political and security institutions. The philosophy would be to dramatically invest Iraqis with complete responsibility for their common future. And while they would not provide a guaranteed, fixed date for final U.S. withdrawal, the benchmarks would immediately create tests for Iraqis that would either lead to greater stability in the country ad large U.S. troop withdrawals in a matter of months, or would make it clear it truly is time to cut our losses and leave with a brief effort at damage control. Now, there are all sorts of objections that can legitimately be made about every line I’ve written above, but the same is obviously true about every other approach, including “timed withdrawal,” which even its advocates admit will likely lead to a failed state and chaos. And if you think my suggestions are stupid, then check out the very detailed plan articulated by Wes Clark, another opponent of “timed withdrawal,” who has forgotten more about military operations and nation-building than Kevin or I will ever know. In demanding alternatives from “hawks,” Kevin adds another stipulation that is troubling once you really think about it: any plan must be realistic given “the leadership of George Bush and his staff, not some fantasy scenario in which he suddenly turns into the reincarnation of FDR.”Unfortunately, that kind of makes any Democratic proposal on Iraq unrealistic, doesn’t it? I mean, Bush and his staff are not about to embrace “timed withdrawal,” either. And they are going to be in office until January of 2009, a juncture at which even neocons aren’t going to be arguing for 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The Democratic responsibility on Iraq, other than making all the richly deserved critiques of administration policy that we’ve all been writing and talking about for years, is to give the public an idea of what our leaders would do if they were in power, nothing more and nothing less. And like it or not, this is an inherently political calculation that does not necessarily mean choosing the position most diametrically opposed to Bush.Tetchiness aside, I want to make it clear that Kevin and other “timed withdrawal” advocates are absolutely asking good and important questions of all Democrats, and particularly those who resist the course of just denouncing the whole Iraq enterprise as a disaster and getting out. I certainly share the impulse to unambiguously pin Bush and the GOP with total responsibility for the mess by refusing to countenance support for it in any form. But at a moment when there remains a chance to salvage something positive for the people of Iraq and for the sacrifices of our own troops, my own “moral compass” points me elsewhere.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
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.