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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The War Within the GOP

After months and months of obsessive MSM and blogger attention to arguments within the Democratic Party about every detail of an Iraq withdrawal strategy, it’s refreshing this week to see some ink about Republican divisions as well.
You can make the argument, of course, that these divisons have no practical import: an assortment of Republican senators, especially those up for re-election next year, are itching to get their names attached to some sort of resolution that demands a change of strategy in Iraq, without doing anything real to force it.
But on another level, there’s a growing gap in Republican rhetoric on Iraq between those who are unhappy with Bush for failing to escalate our military involvement even more, and those who are at least willing to concede it’s time to prepare for withdrawal. Moreover, the GOP’s Iraq “hawks,” from Bush on down, are beginning to say things in defense of their position that are, well, a bit crazy.
According to the Washington Post’s account of a Republican Senate Caucus meeting yesterday on Iraq, featuring none other than Dick Cheney, Ted Stevens of Alaska offered this fine bit of geopolitical analysis: “If we leave prematurely, it would be absolute anarchy. We’d be turning over to al-Qaeda one of the largest oil-producing states in the world.”
Aside from confusing the Sunni insurgency with al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, and conflating al-Qaeda-in-Iraq with the perpetrators of 9/11, Stevens seems to assume that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would lead inevitably to a Sunni reconquest of the country. Since the more likely outcome would be a ferocious Shi’a extermination campaign against the insurgency, this argument is truly bizarre. It’s even less credible than the standard “the terrorists would follow us home” extension of the “flypaper” theory that by sacrificing U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, we’re at least “pinning down” al-Qaeda in Iraq, because our enemies can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, presumably trying to step on news reports about his floundering campaign’s latest shakeup, came back from a trip to Iraq and immediately launched an attack on–I swear I’m not making this up–Mike Gravel.
Now it’s never been a secret that some Republican Iraq War Hawks have long promoted the decidedly minority view that we would have won in Vietnam if we handn’t cravenly drawn the line at nine years, 58,000 combat deaths, and troop levels exceeding a half-million. Some even think we should have deployed tactical nuclear weapons. But McCain’s now retailing an even more lurid revisionist tale: that the decision to cut off assistance–led by Gravel among othrs–to the crumbling regime of Lon Nol after the ill-advised U.S. widening of the war into Cambodia created Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. “I’ve seen this movie before from the liberal left in America, who share no responsibility for what happened in Cambodia when we said no,” quoth McCain. (This gambit was too much for Joe Biden, who rejoined: “Give me a break! Quoting Gravel as the voice of the left? This is a man who, God love him, nominated himself for vice president. I mean, come on!”).
Meanwhile, adding to the Republican disarray, the president himself, on the eve of an official interim report on Iraq, made a speech in which he said, after expressing an openness to different options: “Yes, we can accomplish this fight and win in Iraq. And secondly, I want to tell you, we must.” Since every viable option for a changed strategy in Iraq involves an admission that a “win” in Iraq is simply delusional, Bush is clearly rejecting, in advance, and for the umpteenth time, any hortatory advice from Congress.
So there you have it: GOP opinion on Iraq runs the gamut from self-consciously toothless efforts to distance vulnerable Republicans from Bush’s policies, to lunatic arguments that we’re about to hand Baghdad over to Osama bin Laden, to fatuous Vietnam-era analogies.
Democrats would be wise to take a few days off from debating their own relatively minor differences of opinion on Iraq and let the American people hear, loud and clear, the GOP’s “wisdom” on the subject. Democrats might also begin to hammer home the obvious point that Bush and his allies are paving the way for a major al-Qaeda propaganda victory by screaming from the rooftops that the inevitable U.S. withdrawal will be the worst U.S. setback since the British burned Washington during the War of 1812.

2 comments on “The War Within the GOP

  1. edkilgore on

    You’ve put your finger on something important: the endlessly circular nature of so many of the administration’s arguments for its Iraq policies.
    Political solutions require security, and security requires political solutions. We have to stay in Iraq until Iraqis can defend themselves, but they can’t defend themselves if we leave. And best of all, if we leave, the terrorists will “follow us here,” and while we can’t beat them here, we can beat them there, and if we can’t, then we must. It’s all such a ball of madness.
    Thanks for the comment, and please stay engaged with the site.
    Ed Kilgore

  2. steve duncan on

    We hear Bush exhort giving our military the time and resources to win the war. On other occasions we hear admin officials (and Bush?) remind us this war on terror can’t be won solely via military means. Yet seemingly every report on the horizon informing us of our status in Iraq is military in nature. Why no cautioning patience while we wait on reports from Rice or Crocker? Where are the reports detailing their diplomatic efforts at mending the political and sectarian rifts keeping Iraq at full boil? I’m sure Bush would say the violence has to be lessened before talks can bear fruit and only the military can accomplish that. It seems many other wars had efforts at a diplomatic solution ongoing as bullets flew. Yet we let Bush use this excuse now. I’d like to see Rice and Crocker and a few other non-military officials have the onus put on them to show results. Progress isn’t always or solely ground held, bad guys killed and populations pacified.


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