Biden and Clinton Need To Stop Running From Their Own Shadow On Iraq
With Bush’s poll numbers plunging as he blithely continues with the “stay the course” mantra, and with Democrats seemingly unable to coalesce around a position as clear as Chuck Hagel’s, one can only wonder how weakened the GOP would be if Democrats actually took a position of clarity on Iraq. With the DLC wing and their new mouthpieces Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden sounding a replay of the “we can’t be against the war; Bush will berate us!” 2004 campaign message, there is room as Atrios notes for the rest of the party to move into new and unencumbered territory on Iraq from this point forward. Bush ran and won on Iraq and terror in 2004, but there is a good and bad side to that development. The bad side for the Democrats is that they lost the election. The good side is that with the conclusion of that election Democrats are free to throw off the shackles of that “we can’t leave Iraq” albatross and start anew.
In fact, there are two issues here, one the past and the other the present and future. As for the past, it is plausible for both parts of the party to defend their position: the anti-war side gets to gloat as they should for being right; and the “Bush blank check” crowd can hide behind the “we were lied to” argument, even if it means I probably wouldn't trust this group of clowns again. But regardless of which camp you fall into, your position on the present and future course of action can be developed independent of your position pre-2005. It is far easier for the anti-war part of the party to adopt the “it’s time to come home” argument as a matter of principle and intellectual consistency, again, as it should be. For the “Bush blank check” and “we were lied to” part of the party such as Clinton and Biden, they are still trying to sound like better versions of Kerry and aiming to paint themselves as more clearheaded and intelligent versions of Bush himself, but are also afraid of sounding a retreat that will get them blasted from the Mighty Wurlitzer.
Well, stop worrying for God’s sake. First off, Hagel’s clear headedness on the need to stop sinking in the quicksand and to stop doing more damage in the region makes anything said by Clinton and Biden about staying the course look stupid. Second, the polls already show that the public has thrown in the towel on Bush when it comes to Iraq. Third, it is clear that Bush will oblige his demise by continuing to stick with the “stay the course” message a little while longer, and he is getting away with it because the opposition party has yet to maneuver itself into an advantage for offering an alternative. (And please, stop with the tired complaints that he has “failed to give the American people a realistic assessment of where we stand today, and where we should be going." Get over it Russ Feingold and Harry Reid: Bush isn’t going to give you or anyone else an honest assessment on Iraq or anything else.) Fourth, as Gregg Mitchell in Editor and Publisher said yesterday, it is only a matter of time before the major newspapers in the country start calling for a pullout, so the Democrats would look even more foolish if both the papers and Bush beat them to this position.
Sure, what worries the Democrats about taking such a position is the fear that the Mighty Wurlitzer will start the “blame the Democrats for losing Iraq” smears, attacks that are already starting in the right wing blogosphere and punditocracy spewed by people who never wore a uniform and are only too happy to keep their own kids home while they urge other parents to send their kids to die for the PNAC wet dream. Democrats will be attacked no matter what, and we are way past the time when timidity outweighs the safety of our soldiers fighting an ill-conceived war trapped in a botched occupation, an occupation and foreign policy that was hatched not amongst Democrats but squarely within the GOP.
As I have said before, our troops did their job in getting Saddam out of power. Hagel is correct; the longer our troops are trapped in harm’s way in the middle of what may turn out to be a civil war of Bush’s creation, the worse we as a nation will be for it. The loss of life is bad enough, but the war on terror was supposed to be Job Number One, and we haven’t even accomplished our mission in Afghanistan, and we are destabilizing the Middle East in the process. And aside from Hagel, there are people far more qualified and knowledgeable than me or most Democratic senators, who are now calling for us to get out, people like Boston University professor of international relations Andrew Bacevich, a retired colonel, conservative, and Vietnam veteran, who debunks the reasons given for “staying the course.”
There is no reason why Democrats cannot develop their own exit strategy and timeline now, one whose first step envisions the withdrawal of large parts of our forces from the cities and into secure bases now, coupled with a clear statement that we have no desire for maintaining bases in Iraq or pillaging their oil, two things that can be enshrined in the new Iraqi constitution. Any notion that we are planning to keep 100,000 troops in Iraq for a decade should be rejected by the Democrats outright, and Feingold and others have gathered enough information from the brass on the ground over in Iraq to have the guts to set our own timetable. Until voters see that there is a difference between the political parties on how we approach Iraq, the Middle East, fighting terror, and achieving energy independence, Bush will continue to get away with approval ratings that would have made Nixon laugh.
There is much hard work ahead to be done, a large part of it due to the "war first" strategy of the PNAC cabal running this country that decided to go after Iraq, Iran, and Syria by force as our Middle East policy. But we are long past the time when the United States' interests mesh with those of Israel and Saudi Arabia. If the Democrats want to show a clean break with the destructive policies of this administration and give the voters a clear choice as well as a reason to let the Democrats drive the car next year, Democrats will have to step out on that ledge and tell voters that it is time to talk directly with Iran about the future of Iraq and the whole Middle East. It is time to tell Israel and Saudi Arabia that they are no longer driving our foreign policy and that our interests may diverge from theirs.
And yes, it is time to eat a little crow and talk with Hugo Chavez and build a relationship that serves our intermediate term energy diversification interests before he falls firmly into the hands of China. As the North Korea example shows us, a mature and seasoned American leadership knows that we routinely have to deal with people and administrations we don't like in order to improve our lot and that of the world. We are paying the price now for not having such leadership the last four years, but there still is time to turn things around under a return to Democratic leadership so that the lives lost by our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan under this incompetent and corrupt regime will not be wasted.