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
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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.