Thursday, August 31, 2006

He Started It!

It's a juvenile taunt, but it's apt here. Responding to statements by Tom Friedman in my interview of him, Paul Mirengoff thinks that any Bush partisanship is justified because Democrats have criticized his wartime conduct:
For example, Friedman accuses the administration of "fraud" in conducting the war in Iraq because it didn't send enough troops. He also attacks the administration for using the war on terrorism as a wedge issue, asking "would Roosevelt have done that?" The answer to that question I'm pretty sure is yes -- if the Republicans had advocated pulling our troops out of Europe or the Pacific before they had defeated the enemy I'm confident that Roosevelt would have made that an issue. So too if the Republicans had attacked Roosevelt's effort to promote safety on the home front, including surveillance of Nazis and, for that matter, internment of Japanese-Americans.

Before I go any further, I have no idea how FDR would have reacted had someone (of any party) challenged him on Japanese internment, but I damn well wish they would have. Such naked human rights violations are never tolerable, and they should have never been even considered in the land of the free and the home of the brave. That we have patriots willing to criticize analogous contemporary human rights violations (torture, "black sites", etc) shows that we've grown as a society, and that is something to be proud of (although the fact that we are still committing these wrongs is a black mark that will haunt us for generations). Nothing animates me more--as someone who believes in the importance of this struggle--than insuring that we fight it in a manner consonent with our basic moral values as human beings.
Back to the main. The key question is: Who acted first? That is, we all agree that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Democrats and Republicans united and put partisan divides behind them for the good of the country. What cracked that divide?

There are a couple candidates for the dishonor, but the one that did it for me at least was the fiasco surrounding the Department of Homeland Security. Remember, that was a Democratic proposal that Bush opposed, until he realized it polled well. Then he flipped, created an out-of-the-blue technical reason for opposing the plan that he knew would be a Democratic poison pill, and then used their "opposition" as a cudgel in the 2002 elections. This was after Bush had threatened to veto nearly every proposed increase in Homeland Security spending--including ones with bipartisan support. I've told more than one person that this event was what changed my perspective of Bush from a likeable bumbler who I disagreed with, to a loathsome and detestable public figure who viewed even America's security as nothing but a political opportunity. That action was a totally unprovoked stab in the back of Democrats who thought American security was something that transcended partisan politics. And it occurred months before the events regarding the Iraq war that Paul alludes to.

The other major problem is that Bush has not just blurred, but utterly erased the line between those who oppose his foreign policy and those who oppose his domestic policy. From tax cuts for the wealthy to drilling in ANWR, everything on the Bush agenda became tied to the war on terror. It didn't matter if you supported every move Bush made in the foreign sphere (the wiretapping scandal didn't even hit until after the 2004 elections). The primary victims of Bush's post 9/11 purge were moderate, hawkish Democrats. The type of Democrat who was voting against the war in Iraq was never seriously at risk, because they were all in safe Democratic seats. Bush deliberately set out to target Democrats who were politically vulnerable, not politically disagreeable. And he targeted them in the worst ways possible--such as the appalling "Osama Bin Laden" ad that went against Georgia Senator Max Cleland. Indeed, any objective look at how President Bush behaved from 2002 to 2004 betrays a fundamental lack of seriousness in prosecuting this war on terror, and taking positions that would actually keep America safe, rather than keep his congressional flunkies safe.

What Paul and his Powerline cobloggers refuse to grapple with is why folks like Friedman (and myself, for that matter) who supported and still support the Iraq war are so furious at Bush now. They want to just tag us as crazy partisan liberals. But that doesn't fly. It doesn't explain why we supported the war in 2002, and it doesn't explain why we still support it now. Nor does it explain the growing numbers of ertswhile loyal Republicans (e.g., John Cole, Daniel Drezner) and conservatives (Andrew Sullivan) who feel the same way. Something happened to make the center, center-left, and large parts of the center-right apoplectic with Bush.

I'm not mad at Bush because I've suddenly become a hyper-leftist. I'm not angry in spite of my centrism, but because of it. The isn't left-wing anger, it's centrist anger, and that's what the Bush partisans can't fathom about us. Tom Friedman took a lot of flack for his stance in 2002, and for holding true to it up until today. He did ignore partisan lines when he made his decision, only to find that for this administration, the only thing that mattered was the partisan line. That's why we're angry. That's why we're furious. We took this war seriously, only to find that President Bush didn't. It's a basic lack of respect, not just for us, but for every American in the armed service who deserves to more than just a pawn in the GOP's political game. And while Democrats have done their fair share of sniping--sometimes justifiably, sometimes not--it was Bush and his administration that started the trend of viewing the GWOT as an electoral war game. And that's unforgivable.

History will, indeed, be very unkind to these people.


Anonymous said...

What color is the sky in Northfield? When the solution is a hard one, and no one seems to have the answer, why blame the folks that are trying to save us from extinction. Monday morning quarterbacking such a difficult situation is not helpful. Tom works for the NYT. His whole persona is invested in the idea that the NYT is wise, and he is wise because he works for the NYT. He has followed the middle east for years and has basically come to the conclusion that it is complicated, duh!, and if we would have done this and this they would love us. He is a very clever person who is too tied to one side of our society, and thinks there answers are better. Where is the proof. 2-3 million people died when we fleed vietnam. Whats the excuse going to be this time.

jack said...

David, if opposing the war makes someone and extreme leftist how is it that 60% of the country opposes the war? When it comes to the war these days anyone who still supports it is on the right of the political spectrum.

Mod_Mephisto said...

Both anonymous and jack miss the point. The GWOT is not the only problem in the world and collapsing foreign and domestic policy under the rubric of that bogeyman is irresponsible. The Bush administration has both oversimplified and destabilized the geographical areas where it has decided to act. The sky is different colors on different days, and people who want to posit one answer for everything are not sudlts, but children. And, just because Bush says its white, doesn't mean those disagree have to yell 'black'> There are many opinions on all issues. Moderates and centrists don't appreciate being silenced by reality-challenged children who are led by their fears, even if not by Bush. The President has capitualted to special interests on trade liberalization, farm policy, and healthcare, and instead of a debate moving towards reform we have people hiding under the bed asking "What color is the sky in Northfield?"

Anonymous said...


Why do you support the war in Iraq?

The near-totality of Iraqis hate, absolutely HATE Americans and want them out as soon as possible. What good can American troops do under those circumstances?


... I can give you literally hundreds of links, either from the media or blogs, pretty much like that.

How can anyone except for Osama bin Laden support this war is beyond me. ..

Can you tell me what good exactly are American troops doing there? Because I can tell you of many VERY bad things that happened and continue to happen because of them.

Also, I very honestly believe neither you nor 90% of Americans give a crap about the lives of any and all Arabs, be they male or female, children or adults, Muslim or otherwise... and that makes me very, very sad.

David Schraub said...


I've in too many other places explained why I believe that America has a moral obligation to combat oppressive regimes (as Saddam's most clearly was) around the world. If you want the complete version of why folks like me supported the Iraq war and are so furious about how poorly its been conducted, I highly recommend the indispensable book Assassin's Gate.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't asking why you supported it. I was wondering why you support it now. Which oppresive regime are the US troops fighting there as of today?

Many people say that doom and despair will engulf Iraq if US troops leave (as if 30,000 - 300,000 civilians killed aren't already something to despair about), or that Iran will simply take over.

Yes, they probably will. So what? Whether they take over now or five years from now on - as they will, since no pro-American democratic regime will ever flourish there, since, well, nearly every Iraqi has a family member killed as a consequence of American actions - what's the difference?

The difference is in the number of casualties in these five years. Withdraw now, or keep killing and dying - with the same result in the end. That's my opinion.

What's yours?

David Schraub said...

I think that when you invade a country, topple its leadership, plunge it into chaos, you owe it to the people to give everything you have to give them the stable, democratic, progressive state you promised them. At some point, we'll have to give up and go home, and feel awful for our failure. But I agree with Friedman, we aren't (yet) at that point. I don't think we've yet put it all out on the table. That push for a Bosnia-like peace accord may be a hail mary, but as long as its a play we haven't tried yet I think we've got to do it.