There’s a bit of interesting confusion breaking out in the progressive blogosphere about how to react to persistent reports (freshly denied, of course, by the White House) that the administration is planning military operations against Iran on grounds of its meddling in Iraq.Armando at Talk Left did an impassioned post accusing Matt Yglesias and James Fallows of arguing for a shift of progressive attention from Iraq to Iran. His main arguments are (1) Iran war talk is “bait” from the Bushies aimed at dissipating congressional efforts to end the war in Iraq; and (2) because Bush and Cheney have no legal authority to start a war with Iran, taking military action based on Iran’s role in Iraq is how they are going to get there. I get dragooned into the argument as someone who doesn’t “get” this latter point, based on a post that expressed incredulity at an Iraqi rationale for an attack on Iran.McJoan at DailyKos picks up on Armando’s post, and clarifies his argument, especially on Point II, suggesting that the only way Bush gets to wage war on Iran is by citing the Iraq War Resolution.What’s confusing to me about both posts is a pretty simple point: is the Iran war talk really a “red herring?” Or is the administration really lusting for immediate war with Iran?In terms of the “red herring” claim, you have to remember that most of the reports of administration war planning against Iran have been relatively under-the-radar, and have been talked about far more by administration critics than by official or unofficial Bush supporters. I see no particular evidence that congressional Dems are folding their tents on Iraq. And with all due respect to the blogosphere, I don’t think the Bushies think they can avoid getting repudiated on Iraq just because some bloggers are arguing about the relative importance of Iran.If the White House really wanted to throw sand in the eyes of Iraq War critics, including a sizable majority of the American people, they’d be doing some very high-profile Iran scaremongering, not focused on Tehran’s role in Iraq, but on the nuclear program, which has indeed gotten significant public and MSM attention.That brings me to the second prong of the Armando-McJoan argument: the Bushies have to make Iraq the pretext for an attack on Iran because they’d otherwise have to get a fresh war resolution from Congress, which ain’t happening. So they are stuck with a transparently stupid and specious rationale for a new war, which would be explicitly described as an expansion of an existing, and overwhelmingly unpopular war. If, that is, they really want to attack Iran, and aren’t just creating a “red herring.”You can see how this argument gets to be a bit circular. The administration either wants war with Iran, or it doesn’t, and if it does, it needs a plausible rationale a hell of a lot more than it needs congressional authority (remember its continuing claims of all sorts of inherent presidential national security powers?). And there’s an obvious scenario where that could happen: the U.S. strongly encourages the Israelis to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and then intervenes to help our ally as a matter of emergency military action, subject only to after-the-fact congressional endorsement under the War Powers Act, if the need for any authority was admitted.As for the initial question of how progressive bloggers should think about these tangled questions, I don’t quite see how worrying about a new war keeps anyone from stopping the old one, unless you’re really into an extreme version of the Noise Machine theory and think any dissent or distraction from the Message of the Day somehow adds strength to Bush’s rapidly collapsing support on Iraq.So let a few bloggers try to walk and chew gum at the same time.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.