Dem-hawks ruling the party roost

In a midnight post here last night I noted that Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has now clearly and openly joined the ranks of those calling for a speedy pullout of the troops from Iraq.
But what about our much-vaunted “opposition” party here here in US, you might ask? Where does the Democratic Party now stand on the Iraq War?
David Ignatius had a great column in the WaPo last Friday in which he wrote,

    This should be the Democrats’ moment: The Bush administration is caught in an increasingly unpopular war; its plan to revamp Social Security is fading into oblivion; its deputy chief of staff is facing a grand jury probe. Though the Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as the White House, they seem to be suffering from political and intellectual exhaustion. They are better at slash-and-burn campaigning than governing.
    So where are the Democrats amid this GOP disarray? Frankly, they are nowhere. They are failing utterly in the role of an opposition party, which is to provide a coherent alternative account of how the nation might solve its problems. Rather than lead a responsible examination of America’s strategy for Iraq, they have handed off the debate to a distraught mother who is grieving for her lost son. Rather than address the nation’s long-term fiscal problems, they have decided to play politics and let President Bush squirm on the hook of his unpopular plan to create private Social Security accounts…

[This para added in Tuesday a.m. for further clarification.] Ignatius is not some lefty or Quaker. He’s a pillar of centrism and realism with great links inside the US security agencies (especially the CIA, which he’s written a lot about.) Perhaps because of that, he’s a supreme realist, very well grounded in an understanding of what’s going on in the Middle East– a region he knows a lot about on his own account, too.
In his WaPo column, he had nothing but contempt for the man most Democrats think of as their leading foreign-affairs spokesmen, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden. Ignatius described him as

    a man who — how to put this politely? — seems more impressed with the force of his own intellect than an objective evaluation would warrant. Listening to Biden, you sense how hungry he is to be president, but you have little idea what he would do, other than talk . . . and talk.

He (Ignatius) also puts together a clear list of what the Dems need to do:

    America … needs a real opposition party that will lay out new strategies: How to withdraw from Iraq without creating even more instability? How to engage a world that mistrusts and often hates America? How to rebuild global institutions and contain Islamic extremism? How to put the U.S. economy back into balance? A Democratic Party that could begin to answer these questions would deserve a chance to govern.

That is an excellent and well considered list. Thanks for that, David.
In today’s WaPo, Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray had a depressing piece in which they described the problems in the Democratic Party in more depth:

    Amid rising casualties and falling public support for the war, Democrats of all stripes have grown more vocal this summer in criticizing Bush’s handling of the war. A growing chorus of Democrats, however, has said this criticism should be harnessed to a consistent message and alternative policy — something most Democratic lawmakers have refused to offer.
    The wariness, congressional aides and outside strategists said in interviews last week, reflects a belief among some in the opposition that proposals to force troop drawdowns or otherwise limit Bush’s options would be perceived by many voters as defeatist. Some operatives fear such moves would exacerbate the party’s traditional vulnerability on national security issues.

Oh, the poor babies! because the Democratic leaders– very few of whom have sons or daughters in the military–don’t want to be painted as “wimps and weenies”, even more of the sons and daughters of the lower classes are going to have to continue to be sent to fight, and die, in Iraq. To make the esteemed senators feel good. Certainly not because there is, in fact, any way to “win” in Iraq. There ain’t. And the longer the now inevitable US withdrawal is delayed, the greater will be the dimensions of the ultimate loss and debacle… And the greater the number of the children of the lower-income folks here in the US who’ll end up dead and wounded.
(And, it goes without saying, the greater the numbers of Iraqi casualties, and the broader the circles of fitna and instability radiating out from Iraq.)
Oh well, never mind about that. Figures like Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Sen. John Kerry — remember him?– are all determined that they and their party should not look “defeatist.”
Gimme a break.
Baker and Murray do note that Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin was bold enough to break with the party leadership last week

    to become the first senator to call for all troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by a specific deadline. Feingold proposed Dec. 31, 2006.

Okay, a lot better than nothing! (But how about April 30, 2006, instead?)
The writers also noted that, “In delivering the Democrats’ weekly radio address yesterday, former senator Max Cleland (Ga.), a war hero who lost three limbs in Vietnam, declared that ‘it’s time for a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy to get out.'”
H’mm. I guess that position is better than nothing… But it still leaves open the idea that there might indeed be, somewhere, somehow, a strategy to win in Iraq. And what might that be, Max?
The WaPo writers note that Sens Reid, Biden, and Clinton all rejected Feingold’s approach, “reasoning that success in Iraq at this point is too important for the country.”
It honestly boggles the mind. Where is this “strategy for success”? What defines success? Why do these Senators even imagine that there’s the possibility of “winning” in Iraq– at a time when it is increasingly evident that the army’s top brass is quite convinced that the situation there is unwinnable.
Of course, none of these Dem-hawks even stops for a moment to define what “winning” would look like. Nor do they explain exactly why it is that “winning” in Iraq is so important for Americans’ interests. (If it’s the old “credibility of our strategic posture” argument, let me head for the exits quickly. That tired old canard of an “argument” can’t haul any water any more.)
Rick Klein, writing in the Boston Globe last week, placed a bit more flesh on the bones of the story the waPo journos were telling about the arguments being put about by the Dem-hawks:

    ”Having the strongest military in the world is the first step, but we also have to have a strong commitment to using our military in smart ways that further peace, stability, and security around the world,” Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said at the Democratic Leadership Council in Columbus, Ohio, last month.
    … Clinton has called for adding 80,000 troops to the armed services, [Oh yes, the Tom Friedman line from two months ago, Hillary. And as I asked back then: where are you going to get these recruits, precisely?]… at a time when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has called for a streamlined force with greater emphasis on technology.
    Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, hit the presidential proving ground of Iowa early this month to warn that ”people don’t think we [Democrats] have the backbone” to deploy the military, and said Democrats must overcome that perception to be successful in future elections.
    Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has laid out a doctrine of rebuilding alliances while making clear that ”force will be used — without asking anyone’s permission — when circumstances warrant.”

It’s worth reading all of Klein’s piece. He does note that,

    not all Democrats have joined the shift. Liberal groups such as are calling for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Howard Dean has mostly remained silent on foreign affairs as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Actually, for Howard Dean to remain silent on the war is, I think, an unforgivable defection from the clarity with which he spoke out against it during the Democratic primaries in early 2004. Or is the situation inside the party now so bad now that we should be grateful that at least he hasn’t joined the chorus of the uber-hawks, but is remaining decently “silent”?
Klein noted a lot more bad news about the party’s stand, as well. Including this:

    The top Democrats in the House and Senate issued a report last month that harshly critiqued Bush administration efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The report — endorsed by the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid — details Iranian and North Korean steps toward building nuclear weapons, and lagging efforts to secure ”loose nukes” in Russia that could fall into the hands of terrorists.
    The report calls for the United States to engage in more direct negotiations with Iran and North Korea, and for the talks to be reinforced with military pressure, including ”the possibility of repeated and unwarned strikes.

So there we have it: support for militarism, beefed-up armed forces, unilateralism, and “preventive” strikes is alive and well in Washington, and is living high on the hog in the Democratic Party chambers there.
(Billmon commented last week that: “At some point, the voters are going to expect the Dems to come up with a more coherent strategy. And if that strategy is simply neocon lite — i.e., we want to bomb Iran, too, but we’ll do it more effectively — they’ll probably stick with the genuine article. To paraphrase Harry Truman: Give the voters a choice between a neocon and a neocon, and they’ll pick the damned neocon every time.”)
All in all, then, regarding this country’s relationship with the rest of the world it looks as if things will carry on getting worse for some time ahead, before they start to get better. We can’t, after all, beat something with nothing. We can’t hope to change things very substantially for the better until we have an opposition party that is worthy of the name– and that’s willing to start articulating and working toward a view of the world in which the US truly does hold up the standard of human equality and human freedom.
Russ Feingold, though: There’s a person I can support. Him, and Chuck Hagel, and a few others more or less equally distributed between the two parties.
Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to have an opposition party round here?

9 thoughts on “Dem-hawks ruling the party roost”

  1. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to have an opposition party round here?
    What’s an opposition party?

  2. Ummm… I vaguely remember… I grew up in England and… oh yes, it’s coming back to me…
    What happens is you have a party in power with a government that’s responsible to an elected body… and then members of the other big party also maintain their own robust and disciplined presence in the legislature and take every opportunity to query and challenge the assertions made by the government… and the “opposition party”– that’s what it’s called, you see– also develops its own strong agenda for the country, often in quite distinct contrast to that pursued by the government… And then, when there’s an election, the two parties (and any other that’s around) compete over the distinct content of their party programs, much more than over personalities and such.
    Yeah, I think that’s how it used to be in England. Maybe still is. I haven’t seen many glimmerings of such a system here in the US yet, though…. Or if there were some (when? I really can’t remember many at all), then certainly since 9/11 the leaders of both big parties have succeeded in extinguishing them just about completely.
    Makes you want to issue a potent and lengthy “scream” sometimes. (But look what happened to the last guy who did that. They soon coopted him, didn’t they?)

  3. In the U.S., political leadership means first figuring out which way the people are headed, then leaping out in front of them and yelling “follow me!” I think I’m paraphrasing someone there, but can’t remember whom.
    We have to take seriously Lincoln’s reminder that ours is supposed to be a government OF the people and BY the people, as well as for the people. Wishing for a worthy leader to emerge simply won’t do. People like Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden aren’t going to have any new ideas until we tell them very clearly what ideas we want them to have. I think we are slowly getting there. The grass roots will eventually sway the leadership, but it will be a bottom-up process, starting in the state legislatures and moving to the congressional districts.

  4. “a government OF the people and BY the people, as well as for the people”
    This is IDEAL case; in reality we never see it.‎
    We saw the opposite, in Spain, N. Korea and Japan, when the majority of people ‎opposed the invasion of Iraq.‎
    Now the majority of UK and US in favour of withdraw, is this can change things? I ‎don

  5. Yes, Salah, it can and will change things. Of course, the change will come too late for many, many people, and the guilty will never be punished properly. But you and I and millions of others like us will know that they failed in every respect, and that the truth came out in the end.

  6. Helena, I would suggest that the Republican Party in the 80’s and 90’s did exactly what an opposition party is supposed to do, at least with respect to control of Congress. As a result, they succeeded in taking power. The Democrats, I think, still have not reconciled themselves to the idea that they have lost what power they had.

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