Regular readers of this blog know I am not one of those who view Joe Lieberman as some sort of demonic figure, or as a key factor in the Iraq mess, or as the incarnation of the DC Establishment. Lots of the attacks on him for allegedly stabbing Bill Clinton or Al Gore in the back are demonstrably misguided. Generally speaking, Lieberman has been a solid if occasionally heretical Democrat with one anachronistic flaw–his belief that George W. Bush or his party have done anything to merit “bipartisanship”–and one very large blind spot–Iraq.After reading his Washington Post op-ed today calling for an escalation of troop deployments in Iraq, it’s clear that blind spot isn’t clearing up; if anything, it’s getting larger. At best, it reads like the call for a tactic that might have theoretically made sense a couple of years ago. At worst, it represents a prescription for making the disastrous course of U.S. post-invasion policy in Iraq an even bigger disaster.Lieberman’s assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq is wildly counter-intuitive and counter-factual. He would have us believe that al Qaeda and Iran are actively cooperating to thwart an emerging “moderate consensus” in Iraq that supports the current Maliki government. Iran, he suggests, is fully backing the Mahdi Army “extremists,” who must be excluded, along with al Qaeda-backed Sunni “extremists,” from a government based on “Sunni and Shiite moderates.” An additional U.S. troop deployment–not a temporary “surge,” it appears, but an expansion of the U.S. military presence until such time as “security” is assured, will do the trick. Otherwise, Iraq will descend into civil war.Lord a’mighty, even the White House seems more realistic than Joe at this point. There aren’t enough “Sunni moderates” left in Iraq to amount to anything. Maliki depends very explicitly on support from the Mahdi Army, and indirectly on support from Tehran. Iran’s main client in Iraq is SCIRI and its Badr Corps militia, presumably a main factor in the “Shiite moderate” forces Lieberman is counting on. And by any definition–certainly the key one of whether the government has a monopoly on the use of force, or even on the use of force by its own employees in the police or the military–Iraq is already in a state of civil war.At least those in the administration who favor the so-called “80% solution”–openly backing the Shia in an effort to crush the Sunni insurgency once and for all–are honest in admitting we have to choose between two threats at present, and favor an expansion of Iranian influence as less damaging to our long-term interests. Lieberman’s approach–committing more U.S. troops to a new two-front war against the Sunni insurgents and the Mahdi Army, in support of a shaky pro-Iranian and pro-Sadr government–is a 0% solution, likely to do nothing more than increase the near-universal conviction of Iraqis that our presence is a plague that must be ended, preferably at the precise moment when their preferred faction is in ascendancy.Having spent much of the last year investing as much rhetoric in attacking Tehran as in attacking al Qaeda, Joe Lieberman apparently can’t bring himself to admit that there is no course of action, other than beginning troop withdrawals, that can maintain U.S. neutrality between the two threats. But no one else need follow Lieberman into the prison of his own logic about Iraq, or willfully accept his blind spot.It’s time for Joe to re-focus on global climate change, or health care, or tax reform, or oversight hearings into the Katrina disaster. Anything but Iraq.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
The long-awaited first Republican challenger to Donald Trump for 2024 is apparently arriving shortly, and I wrote about her at New York:
Ever since Donald Trump formally announced a 2024 presidential comeback bid last November, the big question has been when, exactly, one of the large number of potential Republican rivals would jump into the turbulent waters with him. There were credible reports that potential candidates were afraid to draw Trump’s concentrated fire. But now the Charleston Post & Courier reports that Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, will take the plunge on February 15.
The timing of the Haley announcement is odd, coming right after a show of force by Trump in South Carolina. At his January 28 event in Columbia, he demonstrated his support from the state’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, senior U.S. senator, and three U.S. House members. Perhaps Haley is just playing catch-up or is concerned about preempting a rival presidential bid by the junior U.S. senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott (whom she appointed to the Senate). The Dispatch’s David Drucker believes she actually relishes the prospect of a one-on-one fight with Trump in the early going:
“What better way to distinguish herself versus Trump, DeSantis, and anyone else, than by becoming the second declared candidate in the primary? The contrast is stark. Republican voters can choose between a white, male, soon-to-be 77-year-old defeated former president who has led the GOP to three consecutive electoral disappointments, or a nonwhite woman in her early 50s, born of immigrant parents, with conservative bona fides on most critical issues that are unassailable.”
Being the first official Trump challenger will definitely provide priceless advertising for Haley’s on-paper credentials. In addition to the qualities Drucker mentions, Haley has checked the foreign-policy-qualifications box via her service at the U.N., something Ron DeSantis can’t match. She has shown excellent political instincts over her lengthy career (she got massive positive publicity for removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House grounds long after it had become a low-risk endeavor). Most of all, she has excelled in the essential Republican art of staying on good terms with Trump without looking like his toady.
Indeed, Haley’s odd relationship with Trump may soon be in a bright spotlight. She has offended him on multiple occasions, first by endorsing “L’il Marco” Rubio in 2016 while criticizing Trump, then by unsubtly letting it be known while serving in his administration that she was an independent player, then by harshly attacking his conduct on January 6. You can add to her sins against the 45th president that she is now breaking a promise to back him in 2024 if he ran. Yet he’s never gone medieval on her, and he seems strangely affectionate toward her even now, according to the Post & Courier:
“During his weekend campaign swing that included a stop at the S.C. Statehouse, Trump told national reporters he recently received a phone call from Haley. Trump said Haley told him ‘she’d like to consider’ a 2024 run of her own.
“’I talked to her for a little while. I said, “Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run,'” Trump told reporters, adding that he would welcome the competition.
“’She called me and said she’d like to consider it, and I said you should do it.’
“Trump then reportedly told Haley, ‘Go by your heart if you want to run.’”
It’s possible this last comment from Trump should be translated as “Go ahead! Make my day!,” suggesting that he is prepared to tear her a new one in the weeks and months ahead. Or maybe he’s simply not that worried about Haley compared to the bigger threat posed by DeSantis.
So what kind of threat to either of these men is Haley ’24? Yes, she is the sort of candidate that might have been thought up by central casting. Originally, she was a politician from the hard-core, Jim DeMint-Mark Sanford wing of the South Carolina GOP who fit the Tea Party mood like a glove. But then she gradually made herself into a national-media icon of what post-Trump Republicanism might look and sound like. To conservatives of every hue, she’s unimpeachable on cultural issues, unobjectionable on foreign policy, and especially distinguished in the evergreen hobby of union-hating (she anticipated DeSantis’s attacks on perfidious corporations back in 2014 by telling potential investors in her state that they could take their “union jobs” elsewhere).
Haley’s ultimate problem as a presidential candidate is that she’s from a crucial early primary state. As Tom Harkin (whose presidential candidacy in 1992 took Iowa right off the table) could tell her, you don’t get much credit for winning your home state. But if she loses South Carolina, her candidacy will be dead as a mackerel.
Haley’s other big challenge is to overcome the perception that she’s really running for vice-president. She has been regularly featured on veep lists for Trump (even back in the 2020 cycle, when there were reports that the then-president wanted to dump Mike Pence in favor of her). And there’s not much question that Republicans need help with women voters, having placed a woman on their national ticket only once. And maybe that is her goal, or at least an acceptable consolation prize; despite years of being treated as a Republican star, Haley is only 51. But she’d better not wind up looking too weak in her home state, or the largely superficial image she has built as a political world-beater could vanish like a rare snowfall in the Carolina sun.