There’s lots of things going on this week in the tangled politics and policy of U.S. policy towards Iraq. I’ve already commented on Bush’s latest big speech on the subject; indeed, I may have been uncharacteristically too generous towards the slippery Chief Executive, based on subsequent analysis of the Great Big Policy Document he released along with his speech.The DLC issued its own assessment today, not only challenging Bush’s continued happy-talk on Iraq (and its unwillingness to show a change of strategy by, say, firing Donald Rumsfeld), but also disagreeing with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s ill-timed endorsement of an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, combined with an unhelpful I’m-not-speaking-for-the-House-Caucus-but-they-secretly-agree-with-me statement. Beyond these large points, there was another negative assessment of Bush’s speech from an unusual quarter with an unusual message: Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic. A writer often described as a Democratic neocon, and an unambiguous supporter of the Iraq war effort, Kaplan takes on Bush’s claim that the military is now adopting state-of-the-art counterinsurgency methods learned in Vietnam, and pretty much hits it like a pinata from several different directions. It’s definitely worth reading. Matt Yglesias’ comment on Kaplan’s piece is quite good as well.And speaking of Iraq and Vietnam, I had one of those old-guy moments today when I suddenly remembered a moment in the debate on Vietnam which reminds me of the odd disjunction between the relatively small policy differences dividing most Democrats and many Republicans on Iraq, and the big tonal and intepretative differences they sometimes convey.In the famously fractious 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the big platform debate over Vietnam (note to young people: this was back when big platform debates were still possible) involved a majority plank which endorsed free elections in South Vietnam to create a coalition government including the National Liberation Front (the political arm of the Viet Cong), and a minority plank endorsing a coalition government including the NLF that would be required to sponsor free elections. The policy distinctions between these two planks were about as meaningful as today’s difference between supporters of a benchmarked withdrawal from Iraq based on estimated dates, and a timetable withdrawal contingent on benchmarks. Yet at the time, these two proposals were almost universally described by the news media as “pro-war” and “anti-war” platform planks. The lesson is this: So much as many of us might wish to focus on the policy details of proposals about what to do now in Iraq, you can’t take the politics out of politics, and the “tonal” or “contextual” implications of various proposals, despite their substantive similarity, matter a great deal.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
I read a Thomas Friedman column this week that really required a smackdown. So I supplied one at New York:
How much political capital should Democrats invest in a probably doomed effort to save the political career of Liz Cheney? Earlier this week, Never Trump Republican Linda Chavez penned a column urging Wyoming Democrats to take a dive this November in order to give the incumbent a chance to survive as an independent, assuming (as it safe) that Cheney will be purged in her own party’s primary. And now, in an apparent coincidence, in comes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggesting a far more radical step by Democrats to align themselves with the small slice of Republicans who follow Cheney’s example in repudiating Donald Trump. He wrote:
“Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination.”
Friedman phrases this as a question, but clearly he thinks it’s a good idea given the “existential moment” America would face if Trump is allowed to regain the presidency in 2024. It’s a bit of a loaded question, too, since it postulates that nothing short of a previously unimaginable “sacrifice” by Democrats and Never Trump Republicans alike can stop Trump — and that it would, in fact, succeed in stopping Trump.
I certainly agree that Democrats dumping Kamala Harris to give their vice-presidential nomination to a conservative Republican who opposes legalized abortion and is a militarist by conviction and heredity would be a “sacrifice,” to put it very mildly. It would also be very, very weird. Friedman cites the recent establishment of a mind-bending coalition government in Israel to thwart Bibi Netanyahu as a development comparable to what he is suggesting. But as he acknowledges, Israel has a parliamentary system in which multiparty coalitions are the rule rather than the exception. A presidential system in which parties invariably run separate tickets for the top job is another thing altogether.
The U.S. has had exactly one example of multiparty fusionism in a presidential election. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Republicans nominated Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee — then serving as U.S. military governor of Tennessee — to run with Lincoln on a “Union” ticket. The experiment did not turn out well, beginning with Johnson’s drunken inaugural address in 1865 and continuing with the racist solidarity he exhibited toward ex-Confederates after Lincoln’s assassination, culminating in his impeachment and near removal from office. There are important reasons politicians sort themselves out into major parties, which should be apparent in an era of polarization over issues other than the scofflaw behavior of Donald Trump.
Is the threat of Trump’s return to the White House the equivalent of the U.S. Civil War? Not in itself, I would contend, though that horrific development could lead eventually to grave conditions comparable if not equal to a civil war. The premise that a Biden-Cheney fusion ticket would uniquely doom Trump to failure is even more dubious. There has never been much evidence of a mass following for Never Trump Republicans, and such as it is, it is mostly composed of people who would (and did in 2020) gladly vote for Biden and Harris. The baleful effect that replacing Harris with Cheney on the ticket would have on Democratic turnout could easily offset or exceed the alleged benefits of bipartisan and trans-ideological fusion.
So Democrats should say thanks, but no thanks, to Friedman for the idea of submitting their party to some sort of unwieldy and unnatural coalition of national salvation, so long as there is the slightest possibility of beating Trump the old-fashioned way. Liz Cheney deserves great respect for the courage she has shown in defying Trump at the expense of her own career, and if Biden is reelected with her support, perhaps she deserves an ambassadorship, a minor Cabinet post, or a major sub-Cabinet position. But she has no business being at the top of the line of succession to a Democratic president.