Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 20, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WESTEN ON THE WAR....Drew Westen has a piece in the New Republic today that perfectly illustrates my mixed feelings about him. First, here he is talking about what's wrong with Democratic waffling on the Iraq war:

When, in May, Democrats offered rationalizations about not having the votes to override a veto...and most importantly, when they backed down after they had repeatedly stated their principled opposition to the war, they did nothing but to underscore the message Americans — appropriately — took away from the Iraq war vote in May, and will do again if Democrats continue to back down: that Democrats lack the courage of their convictions.

.... The way to win the center on national security is not to try to craft centrist positions on national security....The way to project strength on national security and to win back the Reagan Democrats who voted for Bill Clinton (despite his draft record) and flirted with the Democratic Party again in 2006 is to exude strength, particularly in the face of aggression, whether that aggression is from al Qaeda or from a bully in his bully pulpit.

That strikes me as exactly right. But what form should a stronger opposition take? Here's Westen a couple of paragraphs previously:

Democrats should pass a bill, call it what it is (the "Protection of Our Men and Women in Uniform Act"), stick with it until the president signs it into law or enough Republicans, fearing for their political lives, jump ship and vote for it, and start a running tally of the number of dead and wounded American soldiers since [fill in your Republican incumbent's name here] failed to support our troops by taking them out of the middle of someone else's civil war. If Republicans want to filibuster, let them live with the consequences as the name and photograph of every new fallen solder is tied to the person at the podium, as it should be.

This strikes me almost precisely the worst possible strategy. The last thing we want to do is convince the public that the reason Democrats want to pull out of Iraq is because our enemies have hit us too hard and we don't have the stomach to fight back. That's exactly the message this would send, and it's wrong on both substantive and psychological grounds. Republicans would eat us for lunch.

There are lots of powerful arguments in favor of withdrawing from Iraq. For starters, as Westen points out, we're stuck in the middle of a bloody sectarian civil war in which we have little stake. On the political front, the Iraqi government has no incentive to make necessary compromises as long as they know we'll stay and back them up no matter what. The surge hasn't changed this and doesn't seem likely to change it in the future. Finally, and more broadly, our presence fuels the very insurgency we're fighting and makes Iraq into al-Qaeda's richest recruiting grounds, all the while sucking troops away from Aghanistan and the Pakistani border, al-Qaeda's real home and primary training ground. Fundamentally, our national security is served better by pulling out of Iraq than by staying.

Those are good reasons for leaving Iraq. But nobody who's even within shouting distance of the political center wants to believe that we're leaving simply because we're too weak-kneed to accept casualties — and they won't thank any political party that forces that notion down their throats. It makes them feel cowardly. The focus needs to be not on the fact that soldiers are dying, but that they're dying for a bad cause. Back to the drawing board.

Kevin Drum 8:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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Comments

We shouldn't be in the war. There is no reason not to count the extra bodies that pile up while the Republicans stall for time.

Posted by: Ross Best on September 20, 2007 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

"The focus needs to be not on the fact that soldiers are dying, but that they're dying for a bad cause."

People already know it is a bad cause. They hate the war. (Sane people, that is. Prove my point, Al.)

We don't have to make the case against the war. We have to make the case against Republican obstructionism. His plan does this. No need for subtle or detailed arguments. Every sane American knows that the next soldier to die or be wounded is a casualty for nothing.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on September 20, 2007 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

Casualties? Merde, who pays attention to casualties?

Posted by: Ghost of General Foch on September 20, 2007 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is right. I love Westen but we'd be willing to suffer WW11 level casualties if the Occupation of Iraq was worth it. It's detrimental to our true national interests. Everybody knows Bush and the Repubs have to sell it otherwise.

Posted by: markg8 on September 20, 2007 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

Normally Kevin's political instincts are pretty good, but I think he's got this one completely wrong. The public no longer supports the war because they're sick and tired of seeing casualties mount for a cause they know is simply no longer militarily winnable. Reminding the public that Republicans are the ones asking our young soldiers to be the last one to die for a failed quagmire of a war is the politics of Truth and one the public gets. We can put up with our troops taking casualties -- sure. But taking casualties for a debacle nobody believes in any more and that its commanding general can't even assure us makes us safer? That's why the public's pissed and why the Democrats need to show that they get it.

Posted by: jonas on September 20, 2007 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

What about Westen's formulation implicitly or explicitly leaves out the fact that it is a bad cause.

Kevin, I think you are really reaching to think that his proposal fails to take this fact into account, that is, you have created an alleged message from him that doesn't exist...it is exactly the same as the one you propose.

As mentioned above, it isn't the deaths that bother us, it is the fact that they are completely, totally, senseless. People get this, the idea that the senselessness needs to be part of the message about more troop deaths is insanely condescending. It already is. The only people who will feel like "cowards" are the unreachables who stil support the president. No sense wasting time on them, better to grill the elected officials, who have their jobs to worry about.

Posted by: abject funk on September 20, 2007 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

I think Kevin's approach would be the recommended one if the people did not already know that (a) the war is ased on lies, and (b)it continues just to serve the vanity of one man.

Given that only the thirty percenters do not know these truths, Westen's recommendation is eminently sound.

Posted by: gregor on September 20, 2007 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

No, I think if you emphasize his point - that these young men and women are dying in someone ELSE'S civil war - Americans will infer the rest. I think his idea is solid, assuming the Dems got their message out there.

Posted by: chuck on September 20, 2007 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

It's someone else's civil war.

How can the Democrats get this wrong?

Any approach based on fundamental American mistrust of altruism and xenophobia can't not work.

Remember 'Kick their ass (xenophobia) and take their gas (mistrust of altruism)' was the only way to sell the war in the first place

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on September 20, 2007 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

**

Posted by: mhr on September 20, 2007 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think some clarification is required here, Drum.

So, you're FOR this part:

"Democrats should pass a bill, call it what it is (the "Protection of Our Men and Women in Uniform Act"), stick with it until the president signs it into law or enough Republicans, fearing for their political lives, jump ship and vote for it,..."

and you're against this part:

" ... and start a running tally of the number of dead and wounded American soldiers since [fill in your Republican incumbent's name here] failed to support our troops by taking them out of the middle of someone else's civil war." ?

Is that your only objection?

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 20, 2007 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

I wish Kevin if he knows list the marketing/PR firms hired by dems vs the firms for the GOP. Dems is losing the PR battle big time.

Posted by: bob on September 20, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

Asked whether US military strategy in Iraq was making America safer, General David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee: "Sir, I don't know, actually. I haven't sat down and sorted it out in my own mind."

Posted by: consider wisely always on September 20, 2007 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

mhr: "As a matter of fact Democrats were infected with the cowardice syndrome as far back as the Vietnam war."

Unlike you, so bravely fighting on the front lines for small-D democracy. You are such a hero!

Posted by: Kenji on September 20, 2007 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK

This little debate reflects the problems with the decmocrats' opposition to the war. First, you can't agree on the "theme" to the opposition. Second, your debate about the politics underscores that your opposition is political. Third, you say little about the consequences of pulling out, instead mostly arguing we should have have gone in and our soldiers are dying. If you cannot reach a logical consensus about why staying in Iraq is worse for our national security, then perhaps your opposition is not well founded.

It is an oddity of American politics that since the late 1960's democrats have been reflexively against the use of American military power or other assertive foreign policy positions. Right or wrong, it is the default position of democrats. The party is so burdened with the anti-war and anti-military position that they concluded a "war hero" like Kerry was their most electable candidate (an irrational conclusion from the outset, but one that swept through the democratic party).

I think the democrats may be repeating a similar mistake this time, irrationally concluding that Hillary is the "most experienced" candidate. She was first lady and then a do nothing senator from new york for six years. Where is the experience that makes her a good candidate for president?

Posted by: brian on September 20, 2007 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

What put George Bush's popularity into the cellar was Katrina.
In fronnt of the American Public he screwed up what should have been the classic heartwarming story--that America comes together in the face of disaster and gets the job done. Instead, we had bodies floating in the water and nobody rescuing anybody.
And not only did they screw up, they blamed everybody but them.
in the wake of that, the American public looked at the war in Iraq and realized that it looked just like Katrina.
There is no redemption for George Bush. and the more the Democrats fight, the more the 70% will vote them in.
simple as that.

Posted by: pbg on September 20, 2007 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK

Westen is right, as is Jonas. Kevin, I once worked in an ad firm with a genius boss who said, "No Broadway show ever opens twice." In other words -- once people make up their minds - in this case over a period of years, with a lot of agonizing -- that's it, unless some mind-shattering change occurs.

Those of us over 50 remember Vietnam. What I remember best about Vietnam (being of draft age) is the utter, nihilistic cynicism of Nixon and Kissinger keeping the war going from '69 on just so Tricky Dick wouldn't have to lose face (sound familiar?)

Westen's gambit plays right to the 70% who are PISSED OFF that 'our brave servicemen and women' are DYING 'cuz Dubya would have his feelings hurt if he lost his pet war. They are also pissed about shelling out hundreds of billions of tax dollars. PEOPLE ARE SMART. They know it's a lost cause. Give them credit. Good job (as usual) Drew Westen

Posted by: planetniner on September 20, 2007 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

What put George Bush's popularity into the cellar was Katrina...
Posted by: pbg on September 20, 2007 at 10:21 PM

Exactly. And the turning point in Congress was the Terri Schiavo debacle. Somebody posted something here that equated the two perfectly... something like: "Iraq is the new Terri Schiavo"

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on September 20, 2007 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

All the democrats have to do is not pass the next war funding bill. Unless they do this then they are guilty of playing politics.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on September 20, 2007 at 10:53 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that half the Democrats, aren't. 20 are centrists, and 25 are Democrats. Republicans, on the other hand, don't suffer this problem - all 48 are Republicans.

Why do we even say Democrats have 'control' of the Senate? The don't have a majority. 48 vs 25 means 25 always loses, even if that 25 are supported by 70% of the popular opinion.

Posted by: Crissa on September 20, 2007 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK

convince the public that the reason Democrats want to pull out of Iraq

I wish I knew how to convince the public to pull out of Iraq. I wish I knew how to convince Democrats how to pull out of Iraq, too. What if they showed pictures of the Iraqi civilians our troops kill?

Posted by: Brojo on September 20, 2007 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

Oil, we're there till the oil runs dry. And that explains why Democratic majorities in Congress cant do diddley-squat. The Democrats say they want out of Iraq but don't do anything about achieving that aim. Take it from Dr. Wu, count on the Democrats and you might see some gas in your tank but you'll also see a whole lot of war. Ditto in spades for the Republicans.

Posted by: Dr WU-the last of the big time thinkers on September 21, 2007 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

I am increasingly reminded of Omar Bradley’s rejoinder on the Korean War: "the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy". How about Cheney, G. W. Bush and the rest of the neocons , are they f___ing foreign policy geniuses or what?

Posted by: fafner1 on September 21, 2007 at 12:05 AM | PERMALINK

"That's exactly the message this would send."

What does that phrase mean, really? Is it the message we mean? No, of course not. Is it the message that the right will push? Yes, of course. Is it the message people will take away? That depends.

The right is going to call a pull-out cowardly no matter what. Nor are you going to be able to convince a single believer out there that our presence makes things worse through any argument or message. What has turned the public against the war is the bloodshed. What people want is less bloodshed. Attacking Republicans for continuing to kill Americans and Iraqis is both the message we should be sending, and the message that will speak to people.

The right will call you a coward no matter what. But if people believe in you, they won't believe the accusations.

Posted by: JD on September 21, 2007 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

Since there are really no good options, by default it remains on the shoulders of Bush. Who else really truly wants to make the decisions and possibly see a nightmare scenario unfold.

Posted by: Luther on September 21, 2007 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

The last thing we want to do is convince the public that the reason Democrats want to pull out of Iraq is because our enemies have hit us too hard and we don't have the stomach to fight back.

Enough with the playground logic. We made 25 million new enemies. We can either kill them all or leave their country.

There is no happy medium.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on September 21, 2007 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

Bill Richardson hit the "Iraq won't change until we get out" angle well in tonight's debate.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on September 21, 2007 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

If it's a bad cause, then the lives are wasted.

Posted by: NealB on September 21, 2007 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

You've managed to tersely argue why being in Iraq doesn't serve our national interest. With this, I agree. But what of our nation's moral responsibility to Iraq? That's the more difficult question. Few political points can be gained answering this.

Posted by: Philippe on September 21, 2007 at 2:58 AM | PERMALINK

Philippe, our(the USA) moral responsibility to Iraq can't be discharged without war crimes trials for a large number of Bush administration officials and appointees, as well as military commanders.

If you want to go there, by all means, lead on!
After the first fifty or so executions, I imagine the Iraqis will begin to take our repentance seriously, and perhaps, maybe, we can begin to try to attempt to start to repair some of the damage we've done.

But unless you are willing to see Secretaries and Generals and elected officials hang, your concern for US moral responsibility toward Iraq is so much navel gazing.

Posted by: kenga on September 21, 2007 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

You're also the only lefty blogger that is against the Dan Rather lawsuit.

Kevin Drum, lefty iconoclast.

Posted by: MNPundit on September 21, 2007 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

But what of our nation's moral responsibility to Iraq?

Thanks kenga. Hanging the neo-cons and generals, and allowing the Iraqis to punish the Blackwater jack boots themselves might demonstrate to the Iraqis America has morals.

Posted by: Brojo on September 21, 2007 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Weston wrote: The way to project strength on national security and to win back the Reagan Democrats...is to exude strength, particularly in the face of aggression, whether that aggression is from al Qaeda or from a bully in his bully pulpit.

This quote conflates enemies with rivals. Attacking George Bush is not equivalent to attacking Saddam Hussein or OBL.

The Dems deservedly won a landslide after Nixon's impeachment, but their attacks on Nixon didn't project strength on national security. That's one reason why Carter couldn't win a 2nd term.

Posted by: ex-liberal on September 21, 2007 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK
This quote conflates enemies with rivals.

No, it doesn't. Domestic proponents of tyranny, whether they claim the best motivations in promoting it or not, are enemies, not rivals.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 21, 2007 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The Democrats continually come off as wimps. Congress fails to stop war spending and it condemns free (and accurate) speech from its own supporters (has any Republican ever apologized for calling a sitting senator a coward and traitor?). These repeated demonstrations of how weak and lacking in conviction they are is driving me, a lifelong Texas democrat, to almost give up on the process.

The average American bases votes on perceived qualities of the candidates, and often not on the positions actually taken. Democrats need to stand for something, and forcing the Republicans to actually filibuster all of the bills they do, including those related to the war, habeas corpus and domestic surveillance, is not a bad idea. If they do stand up for these things, the fact that their right will be a bonus.

Posted by: BobPM on September 21, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely, calling Bush a "proponent of tyrrany" is over the top.

In terms of foreign policy, he's been a greater opponent of tyranny and supporter of democracy than most recent Presidents.

Domestically one can argue the Constitutionality of the Patriot Act and wiretapping of suspicious international calls, but these are not terribly extreme, particularly when compared with past Presidents, who wire-tapped Martin Luther King, interned Japanese Americans or imprisoned those who expressed opposition to the Civil War.

Posted by: ex-liberal on September 21, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK
cmdicely, calling Bush a "proponent of tyrrany" is over the top.

Well, yeah, for one thing that double-r is just ridiculous.

In terms of foreign policy, he's been a greater opponent of tyranny and supporter of democracy than most recent Presidents.

If that were true, then he might be an ally of the regular people in those foreign countries involved (it's not true, but that's irrelevant.)

In terms of domestic policy, he has advanced authoritarianism and trampled the Constitution. I wasn't discussing his relationship to foreign people, I was discussing his relationship to the American people.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 21, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Protection of Our Men and Women in Uniform Act"

How about this instead, "We Made a Really Fucking Stupid Mistake Believing Shrub About Iraq/Let's Get the Fuck Out of There and Quit Wasting American Lives and Money" act?

Posted by: JeffII on September 21, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK
How about this instead, "We Made a Really Fucking Stupid Mistake Believing Shrub About Iraq/Let's Get the Fuck Out of There and Quit Wasting American Lives and Money" act?

Doesn't work, its too honest and doesn't have a blandly positive initialism.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 21, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's wrong, for all the reasons stated above.

Is he auditioning for a position at Slate?

Posted by: Disputo on September 21, 2007 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

he's [W. Bush] been a greater opponent of tyranny and supporter of democracy than most recent Presidents.

Carter is the only president that I know of that supported democracy and helped bring down American supported dictators like the Shah and Samoza.

W. Bush has done nothing but obstruct democracy movements in Palestine and Venezuela and the US.

Posted by: Brojo on September 21, 2007 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo: Carter is the only president that I know of that supported democracy and helped bring down American supported dictators like the Shah and Samoza.

...and replaced them with new tyrannies that were just as bad for the people, but were worse for American interests.

Posted by: ex-liberal on September 21, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

I think the 60% of Americans who want us out of the war agree with Westen. Why doesn't Kevin agree with this overwhelming majority?

Posted by: David on September 21, 2007 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

ex-Lib @ 5:07 - "...and replaced them with new tyrannies...".
Sorry, wrong answer! The Iranians and Nicuaguan replaced the Shah and Somoza. That's what is known as democracy. And, of course, there's a very good chance that if the US hadn't spent so much time and money supporting those two perhaps when they fell there wouldn't have been such an extreme reaction.
Now, if you wish to argue that their replacement was disadvantageous to our interests, that's another question entirely.

Posted by: Doug on September 21, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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