Thursday, November 09, 2006
By accepting Don Rumsfeld’s resignation, President Bush has nullified the first plank of the Democratic agenda on national security (as outlined by Diane Farrell prior to the election) and forces the Democrats — months before the new Congress has convened — to move to point number two — outlining their plan for achieving success in Iraq.
This accelerates what I have termed the “Orange Revolution meltdown clock” for the Democrats. In opposition, it was quite easy for Joe Lieberman, Jim Webb, Nancy Pelosi, and Henry Waxman to agree that Rumsfeld should go — but much more difficult, if not outright impossible, for all of them — as the new legislative majority — to coalesce around a common strategy.
Meanwhile, by nominating Robert Gates — someone closely identified with both the Reagan and Bush ’41 administrations — the president has taken a step to defuse a possible “civil war” within the Republican party over security policy. Symbolically, Gates’ appointment could help promote the “Reagan synthesis” Rich Lowry counseled Bush to pursue in the pages of The National Interest last year. Gates’s arrival at the Pentagon also gives the president room to explore new options for Iraq and puts someone in place who can quietly continue with the ongoing transformation of the military and intelligence communities.
With this decision the president seeks to regain some of the initiative he lost as a result of the elections.
Meanwhile, up at NI online, a profile of Gates by a former colleague, Fritz Ermarth ("Knowing Gates")
But the Democrats certainly have an obligation to suggest a new course and the one that comes most easily to mind would be a modification of the Biden Plan, to deal with Baghdad, that would amount to a two-tiered partition of Iraq. The country would divide into three states and Baghdad could be divided into two sectors like Berlin during the Cold War. Having proposed something along these lines, the ball would then be in the Republican court.
Iraq isn't going to be one state for another half century, if ever. We should consider giving the Shias what they say they want (a large sub-state) and letting them decide for themselves whether they want to play East Germany to Iran's USSR.
It is possible that the appointment of Gates will bring realists back into foreign policy. But the NRO Symposium you attended doesn't really suggest a closing of the rift in the party so much as a closing of the rift between realists and the White House. Frank Gaffney was quite skeptical of Gates and whether the rank and file of the party agree on the need for a deal with Iran is far from clear. It is the realists coming into the administration who most urgently need to define a new policy. Perhaps the report of the Baker group will go a long way to answer this question.
While it might be fashionable or sexy to promote sweeping strategic shifts in think-tank reports and bite-sized op-eds, it is far more difficult and crucial that our new policies demonstrate restraint and always be developed with both eyes on the current state of affairs in Iraq and the precious few levers that are still available to the US for affecting Iraqi behavior. Big Plans light on details and depth are what got us into this mess, and we certainly don't need more to get us out.
So NO, the idea that our Iraq debate should be primarily shaped by two competing and coherent grand visions is dangerous and wrong. It would be much better to open up and disencumber the decision-making process, making it possible to accept workable policy ideas, regardless of political origin. Removing Rumsfeld was a necessary step, and the there is much to find promising in Gates.
Of course, all this is anathema to the NRO mentality, and you can't expect to find a trace of this in the symposium. This leads me to a question: why do you even read (let alone participate in) this partisan circle-jerk? This publication has very little to do with informative and substantive debate, and everything to do with politically-charged invective. While I love your blog and love TNI even more, it sometimes seems that you have a political outlook guided more by inertia from the debates of the Cold-War-era and the 1990s than by an honest survey of the contemporary discourse.
This is exactly wrong. Congressional Democrats have no obligation to do anything of the sort, and even if they did, they have no resources to do it. They have only the intelligence the Executive Branch chooses to share, and they have nothing like the policy development or planning resources the Executive Branch has. Demanding they develop a "plan for Iraq" under these circumstances is nothing more than setting them up for failure. The role of Congress is to make laws, appropriate money, and oversee how the Executive Branch spends it. It would be quite enough if the Democrats now apply the oversight that the Republicans refused to do.
I don't see how the party out of power can set itself up for a fall by urging a policy that the White Houses refuses, unless the White House has a better policy that quickly proves itself, and I don't see that as likely. Only if the White House embraces a Democratic plan for partition and the plan fails would the Democrats be in trouble, but Republicans couldn't very well blame Democrats for the failure.
In any case, the Democrats are a government in waiting with only a year and one-half in which to prepare a platform on foreign policy and national defense. You don't need day-to-day intelligence to do that (such intel hasn't done Bush much good). Democrats have an obligation to think out what they would do about Iraq if they take the White House. Democratic primary candidates will need to do this before the primary campaigns get underway and the nominee will have to have a policy going into the general election.
The new Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee the executive branch over the next two years and they will surely do that. But if the Congress simply restrains the White House, the Republicans will turn around and blame Democrats for any losses that result, as they did after Vietnam. Democrats are already having to defend themselves against al-Qaida's gloating over the election results.
The recent election shows how volatile the electorate is. A collapse in Iraq and nuclear advances in Iran could push independent voters over to McCain. For Democrats, the best insulation would be to propose a bipartisan strategy for which both parties will share the credit or the blame. If the strategy fails, the Democratic nominee in 2008 will be in a stronger position to call for a new policy.
The only new approach I can see besides unconditional withdrawal is some sort of partition that would make in an orderly way what is likely otherwise to occur with greater violence.
You underestimate the "Mayberry Machiavellis" who run the politics of the White House. What there is is a plan to blame the "Librul media" and the Democrats for the failure in Iraq. Now, they may not succeed, and last week indicates that people might be onto them, but this factor remains. And if the Democrats propose a plan, the Republicans will have something to denigrate on their talk shows. And they can try it, screw it up, and then point the finger. The Democrats would be wise to restrict themselves to those things they actually have the power and Constitutional authority to do.