Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I can't say I'm angry that the president again evoked the events of 9-11 as a justification for supporting his war policies in Iraq. Or that he casually linked the war on Iraq with the perpetrators of Sept 11.

No, I think this appeal is about done. The president and his party have gotten about all the mileage out of that connection as has been possible.

I do, however, believe the war in Iraq will continue to be public topic number one when the 2006 elections roll around and probably even for the 2008 presidential election. The question is, which Democrats, if any, are poised to capitalize on the current quagmire? Or to at least address the problem in a reasonably competent manner?

I know there are lots of good reasons for not setting an arbitrary withdrawal date, and a lot of highly qualified people making those arguments. But if the best Democrats can do is the best that the bush administration could do last night, which is to say, spout the conventional rhetoric about the need to defeat terrorism, invoke the honor and courage of the military, and to pledge our committment to making Iraq a free, democratic and pluralistic society, then I don't know that they will succeed in reshaping the contours of American politics.

The most important issue I believe a Democratic candidate could address is the likely failure of trying to fight an unconventional war using conventional military means. The administration has at times offered remarks that have blurred the lines between conventional and nonconventional tactics and strategies. In the days after 9-11 the president acknowledged that the war against terrorism was not going to be like other wars, given the allusiveness of the enemy. At the same time, he made bellicose threats against nations supposedly harboring terrorists and threatened on them the might of the American military machine if they did not cooperate with us in routing out members of Al qaeda.

Democratic candidates could begin a newer and I believe more authentic critique of the president's policies by drawing attention to this distinction, with the state of affairs in Iraq (and Afghanist) being a symbol of the problems involved with conventional military force.

Karl Rove made a point of criticizing liberals' perceived preference for prosecuting terrorists as criminals rather than wanting to bludgeon them with smart bombs. But certainly returning to a treatment of the problem of terrorism as an international law and justice problem would both be in tune with instruments the administration has itself used, as well a more accurate reaction to the nature of the problem the country faces.

At the same time, Democratic candidates could carefully argue that part of the portfolio of options in responding to terrorism is that of re-examining our interventionist and exploitive policies in the middle east. Simply put, acknowledge that our actions have not always been altruistic and that there are valid reasons much of the region has been unhappy with our government (but not necessarily with us as people). Granted, there would be a violent and vile reaction to such an argument by the lunatic fringe, but I believe the time has passed where the American public can continue to be denied the truth of the context of our world environment and what will be necessary to establish greater security or at least be confronted by a more objective discussion of the role our own policies have had in shaping current events.

At the same time, it is well past time when Democrats should be afraid of jingoistic appeals by conservatives and threats by opponents of what consequences will result if Democrats dare to sound as if they are "blaming America." If America is at least partly at fault in causing our own problems, then the responsible, if not necessarily politically popular, thing to do would be to confront that responsibility. It might even win Democrats some respect for a change. And it would be much better policy.

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