It didn’t get much attention beyond a couple of vague statements urging Iraqis to stay calm and renounce violence, but the President of the United States did yet another of his series of Big Speeches about the War on Terror to the American Legion yesterday. I really urge you to slog your way through this long speech for what it says and leaves unsaid about the administration’s basic concept of the War on Terror more than four years after 9/11. Remarkably, given the major controversy of last week, and Bush’s extraordinary threat to use his first-ever presidential veto of any legislation that might interfere with a foreign government lease of major U.S. ports, there’s not a word in the Legion speech about port security or anything even vaguely related to such crucial ancillary issues as U.S. efforts to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. Instead, the whole thrust of Bush’s speech revolves around two propositions: (1) the familiar if bizarre claim that we’ve succeeded in bottling up every al Qaeda operative in the world in Iraq, guaranteeing our safety against another 9/11, even if it’s at the expense of the agony of Iraqis; and (2) the March of Freedom and Democracy is irresistably destroying terrorism around the world, except for a few speed bumps like Hamas’ election win in Palestine. I won’t even bother to address the first claim, but the second is a fine example of Bush’s tendency to harness entirely solid principles to the goal of spinning his administration’s most obvious failures. I couldn’t agree more than opening the Arab Middle East to political, civic and economic freedom is the long-term key to victory in the war against Jihadist terrorism. But the idea that this administration’s policies in Iraq have given its people freedom and democracy, with the only residual question being whether they are willing to accept these gifts, is ludicrous and offensive. Iraq’s agony right now is the direct result of a whole host of Bush administration mistakes. Indeed, just this week, Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic suggested the most urgent reason for maintaining U.S. troop levels in Iraq is that the bungled “reconstruction” of the country has produced a failed or at least failing state in chaos. It would not only be refreshing if someone in the administration actually admitted this situation; it might even help convince Americans that an immediate withdrawal from Iraq could produce terrible results. But so long as the president himself acts as though the glass is not half-empty or even half-full, but nearly full, and that Americans should ignore the evidence before their eyes that Iraq is a mess, then no one should be surprised if support for further military engagement in Iraq continues to erode. Ultimately, people know when they’re being cynically spun.
TDS Strategy Memos
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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.