Thursday, January 04, 2007

Democrats, Flustered

Today’s Washington Times gleefully reports how Cindy Sheehan and other opponents of the war in Iraq “routed the leaders of the new House Democratic majority from their press conference where they attempted to present their legislative agenda.” Their complaint: no discussion at all of how to end the American involvement in Iraq by the Democratic Congressional leadership.

The Democrats have a problem. The Iraq Study Group (ISG) did not provide an actionable blueprint for conducting a “phased withdrawal” and while its criticisms of how the Bush Administration has prosecuted the war did cause some damage, the president has by no means been neutralized. Don Rumsfeld is long gone from the Pentagon. As I noted in November as part of a National Review symposium,

By accepting Don Rumsfeld’s resignation, President Bush has nullified the first plank of the Democratic agenda on national security …. and forces the Democrats … 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.

Without an ISG plan to rally around, instead of a unified Democratic position, we are likely to return to the status quo that existed in the previous Congress—individual Democrats offering their own competing plans and visions for action, joined together by general criticism of the administration. In response, the administration has already begun to recover its equilibrium and is likely to forge together enough of a bi-partisan coalition to support some sort of “final push to victory” in 2007. But what is not likely to emerge is any sort of consensus that Republicans and Democrats have an obligation to put aside partisan differences with an eye to, as Dimitri Simes advocates in this current issue of TNI, avoid “burdening the next administration with Iraq as a defining issue in American foreign policy.”

Writing before the midterm elections in The National Interest this past fall, Colin Dueck noted:

Democrats may well have success this fall simply by picking up on public dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, but as long as they give the impression of having no serious or clear alternative on national security they will continue to be at a long-term disadvantage to Republicans on these issues. … American troops will probably still be fighting in Iraq in 2008. If circumstances do not change dramatically on the ground, then opposition to the war and calls for disengagement from within the United States will only grow stronger. Yet this will not change the fundamental paradox of the political situation: Republicans are tied to an increasingly unpopular war, but the very issue of war raises perennial Democratic weaknesses and divisions that tend to redound in favor of Republicans.

Some on the Left are concerned that, as a result, most Democrats are unwilling to seriously change the status quo. The Nation editorialized :

Some early signs are disturbing. One came when Bush casually allowed that US Army troop strength should be permanently expanded by 40,000 to 90,000--not more troops for Iraq but more troops to fight the next war. Many Democrats nodded approvingly. … Forget the facts. Nobody in elite political circles wants to sound "soft" on defense. In other words, Iraq is a disaster, but let's give the Pentagon another $80 billion to beef up for the next one.

And herein lies another danger. During the 1980s, Democrats who opposed sending aid to the Nicaraguan contras, in order not to appear “soft on Communism”, intensified their support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan so as to bolster their national security credentials. Might not Democrats now, particularly those who want to avoid the label of “cut and run” on Iraq, decide that an even more hawkish, bellicose stance vis-à-vis Iran is the best way forward? This could end up complicating (and limiting) U.S. freedom of action to find a creative solution to the Iranian nuclear imbroglio whereby, in the pursuit of securing one’s domestic political base, politicians foreclose maneuvering room on the international arena. After all, once broad bi-partisan Congressional resolutions, in 1998 and 2002, had defined Saddam Hussein as a terrorist with a weapons of mass destruction capability, it became much harder to argue for continuing with containment or to suddenly assign Hussein a much lower threat priority than, say, Iran or North Korea.

Democrats swept the midterms as the party offering alternatives to the status quo. But we don’t seem to be off to a good start.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest. This piece continues

Democrats should not offer plans - for two reasons:

1. The administration believes in the absolute authority of the unitary executive - as part of his Commander in Chief role. So he will ignore any plans he does not like.

2. It will distract and play into the odd media desire to shift blame away from Bush. Plus is will onscure the role Congress should play - hearings and oversight. Any "Democrat" plan will just be a political gotcha point.
RE"Might not Democrats now, particularly those who want to avoid the label of “cut and run” on Iraq, decide that an even more hawkish, bellicose stance vis-à-vis Iran is the best way forward?"

This will happen - Bush and Co. will seek out Dems to be the public face against Iran. There are many candidates who will be the ones they will chose for special briefings and encourage to play some sort of bipartisan role. This will be important esp. as the Dem primaries will all but require a tough on Iran stance.

re above comment - Again, it's very strange to observe Bush push off responsibility to everyone else and people seem to want to help him do that. -Comment
Anonymous 3:13:

Disagree with your point. It is not whether or not Bush will accept a Democrat plan it is that Democrats will not have credibility with voters in 2008 if they can't offer something else. Biden got this right when he has been presenting his plan for Iraq and after hearing criticism will say, well, do you have a better idea?

Democrats can pretend like Nixon in '68 they have a secret plan but they have to be perceived as having a plan to be taken seriously. I don't think the "criticize til 2008" approach will be successful.
Democrats are not lockstop partisans blindly worshiping and bowing to thier leadership, nor are democrats as a group willing to compromize the rule of law, the Constitution, America's principles and core values to blind support of a deceptive, abusive, FAILING leadership.

Democrats are not monolithic like the fascists in the GOP, who have and will relentlessly pervert our laws, the Constitution, our core values and principles in blind defense of, and hysterical partisan support for the imperialist designs of the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government.

The socalled MSM are complicit parrots, and a propaganda and disinformation arm of the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government, who slime democrats and all this liberal at every turn, and blindly support, defend, apologize for, cloak, and REFUSE TO INVESTIGATE any of the long, escalating, and festering litany of Bush government deceptions, failures, abuses, derelictions of duty, and wanton profiteering.

Slime or dismiss democrats all you want, but there are a wide range of constituencies under the liberal umbrella, and mainly strong voice will be promoting and demanding a wide variety of policies.

Unlike the GOP fascists, and the fanaticus truebelievers who blindly succumb to the Bush governments PATENT LIES, RADICAL DECEPTIONS, and extensive propaganda and disinformation campaigns, and who stupidly believe the naked falsehood and unholy proclamation that God is in the WH, - democrats from the streats upward are going to demand accountability from the leadership, and push forward policies that represent all Americans - not just the fascists, racists, biggots, corporatists, and the superrich.

Buckle up, truebelievers, you are about to enter some turbulance.

I don't know that the Democratic leadership is going to demand all that much accountability--but will wait to be proven wrong.

The problem that Democrats now have is that they have two competing narratives for why they won in '06. (Perhaps the poster who has used the handle dems in 06 on this blog might comment). The Cindy Sheehan narrative is that the peace camp/anti-war group won the elections. The DLC camp says it was the moderate Democrats who are strong on defense who won. So it is not surprising that you have this incohrence.
Well spoken Anonymous 7:51, but my point is that the two camps and there respective narratives are the essential strenght of the democratic party. There are many diverse voices, and of course, not all of them are going to see their visions or narratives brought to fruition, but the strength in this diversity, (which I would remind our fellow realists here is the real heart and soul of America) is the diversity itself, - the ability for many voices to present a wide array of ideas, policies and narratives, that will be honed through vigorous debate, discourse, and truly democratic processes. This approach is entire different from the GOP robopathic partisanship, that willingly and intentionally bowed to, and glorified the Bush governments wayward and criminal policies in lockstep unison, no matter how false or deceptive, no matter how obviously incompetent, no matter how imperialist, corportist, fascist, or perverted. The Foley scandal, which was conveniently swept off the radar is the perfect metaphor, wherein the GOP in lockstep unison look past perversions abuses, and possibly criminal behavior to maintain political power.

Democrats will not make these kinds of mistakes, because we democrats in the street will not let them. We are not going to allow democrats to escape accountability, and we certainly are not going to allow the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government to escape accountability.

All the various constituencies, narratives and positions on theleft are carving out territories and honing their message, - but we are united in the single desire, and determined intent to see the fascist warmongers and profiteers in Bush held and accountable, and if many of us have our way, impeached and sent to jail for grievous crimes against America, Iraq, and humanity.

Many people want to dismiss this last group of your fellow America's and pretend the IMPEACHMENT demands are going away - but you are sorely mistaken. This is the voice that rose up in November, and this voice will not be denied, and all democrats in leadership positions are going to confront this large, determined, and very vocal constituency. We want the fascist warmongers and profiteers in the Bush government, impeached. We were completely silenced a few years ago, but continued to push for truth and accountability, and the momentum and the winds of change are moving fiercely in our direction.

All it will take is a real investigation into any of the Bush government festering litany of deceptions, abuses, derelictions of duty, failures, and/or wanton profiteering.

And sans the insider pardon deals by the way.
The issues raised by Grazdanin Gvosdev are most interesting, although in their domestic American political context they are difficult to make an intelligent prognosis. If for example the economy were to go into a recession, Iraq would no longer be the leading issue before the electorate. Similarly, if the economy were to take off (GDP growth more than say 4.5% in the last six quarters prior to November 2008), than the likelihood that the Iraq will be the primary issue will again be much less likely. The only difference being that in one case, the Republicans will have the upper hand, and, in the other not, electorally.

As per 'burdening the next Administration' with the Iraq issue, well that is also somewhat
unpredictable, inasmuch as percentage X of the Democrats will always be in opposition to a 'foreign war' whether valid and needed or not, simply because the war is being waged by a Republican administration. And, the war in question, does not command universal approbation. Id est, remember that there were Republicans in Congress, who opposed the war against Serbia in 1998-1999, simply because President Clinton was waging it.
The same thing applies here. Sad perhaps, but, such is the nature of politics in a democratic polity. To go back further into history, just recall that there were Republicans in Congress who not only opposed Roosevelt in 1940-1941 over Lend Lease assistance, but, some in Congress (Senator Norris, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Senator William Langer) opposed the going to war against Germany even after Pearl Harbor, simply because FDR would be waging it.
I am struck by how much the fate of 100 million people in the Levant and the Persian Gulf is being tied to the domestic politics of a hyper-powerl how Iraq, Iran etc. seems to be just so many toys (issue de jour - would you like fries with that?).
Look, let's face it, there IS no "good" alternative on Iraq to be offered. But you're wrong, Nick, to say that Dems were elected because of some expectation that they'd offer one. They were elected because for the simple and meager fact that they at least seemed to grasp the reality of the situation – they weren't whistling daisy while the whole neighborhood burned downed around them, both in Iraq and here domestically. I don't expect them to save the day with a grand plan. I expect them to simply help put out the fire, have the good sense to acknowledge the mess around them, and work with everyone – Dems, GOP, businesses and citizens alike – to solve the problems. It's not the stuff of heroes, but it's better than what we had 'til now. "Average citizens" like myself were tired of the disconnect bewteeen the challenges we face and the priorities of the GOP. Let's give the Dems more than a day before we count them out; we're not expecting greatness. We just want and end to the days of the blind in our WH leading the blind in a do-nothing Congress that seems to devote more energy to issues like gay marriage and Terry Shaivo than honest health care reform and energy independence. Get out of the beltway, Nick.
If you mean by X, a single digit percentage, you might have a point Charles Giovanni Vanzan Coutinho.

But for the majority of democrats - this kind of statement is simply not true, - "percentage X of the Democrats will always be in opposition to a 'foreign war' whether valid and needed or not, simply because the war is being waged by a Republican administration"

There was initially, and remains currently exceedingly little resistance to our efforts in Aghanistan. Democrats support then and now the Afghanistan conflict by large a percentage. In fact we question why critical resources and the entire focus of political oxygen were moved away from fighting the people who actually are repsonsible for the mass murder of 9/11, and diverted to the deceptive, costly, bloody, noendinsight horrorshow in Iraq, who had nothing to do with 9/11.

It is the illegal, unjust, and unnecessary wars deceptively stuffed down our collective throats, that singularly benefit and wantonly profit the fascists in the Bush government, and that cause terrible damage to the American people in terms of the enormous costs in blood, treasure, loss of credibility, perversion of our core principles, and the degradation of our humanity, - that democrats will always oppose.
"This could end up complicating (and limiting) U.S. freedom of action to find a creative solution to the Iranian nuclear imbroglio whereby, in the pursuit of securing one’s domestic political base, politicians foreclose maneuvering room on the international arena."

That U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, has more to do with domestic politics (and then frequently just a narrow slice of it) than what is actually happening on the ground is such a long-standing reality that it is a cliché.

It is typically only when a catastrophe makes itself obvious that most Americans start paying attention and, rarely, ask what role their government has been playing, if any. Of course, by that time, the optimal "good" solutions have long since disappeared. There is also little time for average Americans to progress up the learning curve to intelligently judge proposals from leaders. In any case, most leaders don’t have a clue in the first place because foreign policy savvy is not what got them elected.
"I am struck by how much the fate of 100 million people in the Levant and the Persian Gulf is being tied to the domestic politics of a hyper-powerl how Iraq, Iran etc. seems to be just so many toys (issue de jour - would you like fries with that?)."

That is because most of the 100 million of whom you speak have no vote or voice in U.S. politics. Weird to listen to what passes as Iraq war debate in the U.S., isn’t it? For the most part they are just dueling narratives and paradigms that have little to do with reality outside U.S. borders. (Present blogger excluded, Nikolas. You’ve had some good events.)

In the run-up to the Iraq war, I was in Singapore (a place too small for most people to ignore what goes on outside) for a friend’s wedding. Many of her families’ friends are among the professional and political elite; definitely among those with “serious minds.” One of them asked me about the American public opinion toward a war with Iraq and mentioned that the stakes were quite high.

I replied, “It depends on who you talk to. Many are strongly pro-war. Many are strongly anti-war. However, very few on either side know what they are talking about.”

She responded with a sad chuckle and a knowing shake of her head.
Cloaked insults aside, riddle me this globetrader? Do you or your knowing chuckling friend believe our current leadership here in the land of Oz is advancing policies that benefit Iraqi's, or American's?

Your answer will define the real dueling narrative you mention.

Many "serious minds" in my circles do not see any reason, or one single shred of justification to believe our current leadership is advancing policies that benefit Iraq, or America.

Further, there exist mountains of well documented reasons, evidence, and justifications leading to the well-founded belief that our current leadership is in fact advancing policies that benefit, (wantonly by the way) select klans, cabals, coteries, cronies, and oligarchs in, or beholden to the Bush government singularly and exclusively, - and that tragically - our current leadership is working in ways overt and covert that are causing enormous damage, injury, turmoil, and heaping terrible costs in terms of blood and treasure on American's and Iraqi's.

I'm working on a post for the latest string that may answer your question. I'll try to finish and post it later. I've got some work to do right now.

In the mean time, look past the current situation and administration, think longer term, and ask yourself, when was the last time any American administration advanced policies in the Middle East that consistently benefited anyone in the Middle East or Americans? Differentiate between intentions and actual outcomes.
Looking forward to your post globetrader.

I would offer that both the Carter and Clinton administrations adopted policies that were much more beneficial to American's and other's in the ME.

I appreciate your point on the longterm, and question again given that context, - if you see any semblence of a reason, or one particle of evidence to justify the Bush governments policies (as opposed to hollow promises)?

I, and many in people in these circles see - (based on mountains of well-documented evidence) the Bush governments policies and actions deeply rooted in very narcissistic, fascist, and possibly criminal intentions, whose both short and long term outcomes are causing grievous injury and damage to the American people, and the entire ME, and heaping terrible costs in terms of blood and treasure on American's and Iraqi's.
Dr. Gvosdev,

There is no Democratic plan possible three years prior to an election.

Any form of detailed plan to create a political solution to this military conflict can be easily sabotaged by the Administration. Any "positive" plan, that effects to help fix Iraq, is held hostage by the fact that there is no executive branch to implement it.

The Administration would never agree to execute in good faith a plan that was identified with Democrats. It might agree to some sort of compromise or initial step, but it would deliberately sabotage that step to render the plan unpopular.

This isn't like domestic policy, which is relatively transparent, where deliberate policy sabotage of the passing of a popular law is politically damaging. If the Democrats put forward a reconciliation plan for Iraq, President Bush would be happy to have his allies in the Middle East effectively blow it up. That's what was done to the Baker Report, a sensible document. Did you notice how thoroughly and uniformly its recommendations, the ones deviating from the status quo, the non-aggressive ones, were sabotaged?

President Bush doesn't have enough control over the Middle East to fix Iraq his way, but like any other significant power acting as a "spoiler", he has the power to orchestrate reactions to any plan so as to cause supposedly neutral evaluators to evaluate a plan negatively, both at home and abroad.

Not only that, he can veto Congressional Resolutions that actually attempt to implement anything.

It's dangerous to propose a plan unless you have some prospect of controlling the implementation.

The only power the Democrats have is some limited power reciprocal power to sabotage positive administration moves. But that represents a risk.

I'd like to believe that the President would incur a risk sabotaging Democratic reconciliation plans for Iraq, but I don't.

Any attempt by the Congressional Democrats to forge partnerships abroad to prevent sabotage of a potential plan,

would be argued as constituting treason.

This is perhaps the legislative, constitutional, and perceptual barrier that needs to be changed in order to facilitate greater legislative competition for control of foreign policy.

If such greater competition is viewed as a good thing, that is. I'm sure some would consider that unwise.

The above conversation yet again demonstrates my point else where on this forum: Chile, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, etc. re just (political) toys to you guys. You guys are not serious about the so-called Empire project - at least not as far as the above-mentioned states.
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