It’s obvious that the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq was a big factor in the Democratic midterm victory (though surprisingly, the national exit polls placed Iraq fourth in the ranks of “most important issues,” after corruption, the war on terrorism, and the economy). And in the wake of the victory, I can’t blame the most avid antiwar Democrats for crowing about the steady trend of public opinion in the direction of a rejection of the war as a bad idea from the beginning.But given the likely long-range prominence of national security in American politics, and the persistent doubts of many voters about Democratic credibility on national security (which mattered a lot in 2004, and might have mattered this year if Bush and company had not discredited themselves so thoroughly), it’s important for Democrats to be clear-eyed about the challenges they face. That’s why I was troubled by a TPMCafe post by the usually excellent Greg Sargent the other day that suggested the intra-party divide on national security was between those who (correctly) wanted to be loud and proud in attacking the administration on every front, and those who (incorrectly) wanted to stay silent and fight out the election on domestic issues. Greg’s right that some Democrats have habitually wanted to ignore national security issues and some habitually have objected (going all the way back to the 1970s), but this is a divide that cuts across the left-right, pro-war anti-war differences of opinion. The apotheosis of the change-the-subject approach was in the last midterm elections, those in 2002, and it was promoted and opposed by Democrats on both sides of the decision to invade Iraq (the DLC, to cite one example, ranted against the concede-national-security point of view relentlessly). Indeed, this was a debate that never ended within the Kerry general election campaign in 2004.Within the now-triumphant don’t-ignore-national-security camp among Democrats, a secondary argument has been, as Greg briefly discusses, whether to attack the Bush administration and the GOP for its incompetence on Iraq, or for its basic decision to go after Saddam Hussein. I strongly suspect a lot of voters would consider this a theoretical and backward-looking dispute that is irrelevant to the basic judgment that Bush and company lied and bullied their way into a war they didn’t know how to win. And that’s why Democrats were almost certainly smart to frame their party message on Iraq almost exactly that way. Going forward, perhaps the most significant divide among Democrats on national security is between those who view the Iraq war, however it ends, as a distraction from the broader fight against (substitute your favorite terms) jihadist terrorism, and those who think that broader war is a chimera or a mistake as well. The latter camp (which extends over into the GOP “realist” ranks) implicitly agrees with Bush, Cheney and the neocons that you can’t separate Iraq from the U.S. reaction to 9/11; the failure of the former indicates a basic misconception of the latter. I don’t think this represents anything like a majority of antiwar Democrats, but it’s a debate that needs to be flushed out in the open, and resolved before 2008.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
After a week of efforts to equate the controversial remarks of two particular members of Congress, I pushed back a bit at New York:
It looks like House Republicans are going to deal with outrage over their perennial problem child Marjorie Taylor Greene by finding a Democrat to punish. That would be Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, according to Politico’s Huddle:
“’I think that Ilan should receive the same type of punishment as Marjorie because if it’s good for one, it is good for another,’ Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), who voted to remove Greene from her committees, told me. ‘Anti-semitism is the same thing as anti-semitism. It’s just that Nancy is afraid …'”
There are others who want to push for Omar’s removal as well as those looking to censure her over her war crimes remarks — and a few Dems may join them.
The idea of equating Omar’s complaints about unequal treatment of countries in investigating military misconduct with Greene’s comparisons of mask and vaccine requirements to the Holocaust is deeply satisfying to a lot of people. Republicans can continue their now-ancient habit of waving away extremism in their ranks by claiming it’s more prevalent on the other side of the aisle. Nervous centrist Democrats can document their nervous centrism by firing thunderbolts left and right. And most of all, accusing both parties of harboring those prone to “false equivalence” appeals to the false equivalence many Beltway media folks want to draw between Democrats and Republicans, who are engaged in the mutually assured destruction of partisan polarization.
There’s only one problem: Treating what MTG and Omar have said as equal expressions of false equivalence actually is false, as any honest evaluation of their words quickly shows. Greene bluntly compared COVID-19 precautions to the Holocaust, analogized vaccine documentation mandates to the Nazi practice of making Jews wear yellow stars, and, for good measure, said Democrats are like Nazis because they are “socialists.” Omar said this in the midst of a virtual exchange with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken over investigations of the brief but intense war between Israel and Hamas:
“’We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,’ she wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.’”
Her point wasn’t to say the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban were equally culpable in their commission of atrocities, but that all should be equally subject to international investigation. I suppose there are superpatriots who would dispute the idea that America has ever committed “unthinkable atrocities,” though the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks, and of countless genocidal assaults on Native Americans, among many examples, suggest otherwise. But in any event, when challenged by Republicans and Democrats alike to make it clear she was not imputing equivalent culpability to these various nations and coalitions of fighters, Omar complied instantly:
“U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said Thursday that she was ‘in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems … ‘
“’To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding [International Criminal Court] cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.’”
MTG, meanwhile, kept doubling down on her comparisons of public-health measures with the slaughter of many millions by Nazi Germany, and finally, after more than three weeks and a tour of the Holocaust Museum, she issued an apology that betrayed little understanding of the full scope of the Holocaust, and then refused to apologize for the Democrat-Nazi analogy.
Looking more broadly at the two women and their records of controversial utterances, Ilhan made an unfortunate and erroneous reference to “the Benjamins,” in a gratuitous comment about support for Israel in the United States, for which she “unequivocally” apologized:
“Anti-semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be able to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Greene lost her committee assignments earlier this year after media focus on an almost incredible blizzard of incendiary statements she made on social media before coming to Congress (barely anyone even noticed her practice of brandishing an AR-15 when discussing her enemies in campaign ads). In February, she apologized for claiming that school shootings were fake and for promoting QAnon conspiracy theories. She never apologized for happily contemplating violence against congressional Democrats (including, very specifically, Ilhan Omar) and the Speaker of the House, or for her unusually aggressive support of Trump’s electoral big lie and the effort in January to overturn the presidential election results, or for her own subscription to very weird anti-Semitic claims.
If you cannot discern a qualitative difference between Omar’s “outrages” and Greene’s, and between the speed and coherence of their clarifications and apologies, it may be time for some remedial work in logic and rhetoric. These two members of Congress aren’t alike at all, and as much as I sometimes disagree with Ilhan Omar, treating her as a left-wing MTG is lazy and just plain wrong.