Cindy Sheehan, Democratic Savior?
Posted by David Adesnik
Conservatives such as Michelle Malkin and Bill O'Reilly have blasted the liberal media for lavishing attention on an unworthy protest, but that hardly takes away from what Sheehan has accomplished. After all, there are countless efforts made by anti-war protesters which don't result in this kind of coverage. But Sheehan did a perfect job of framing herself as a lonely voice in the wilderness of Crawford, attempting to soften the heart of an American pharoah hiding behind the darkened windows of his limousine. And as the NYT points out, Sheehan had the good luck (or perhaps the good sense) to stage her protest in the "slow news month" of August, when journalists are almost desperate for news.
But the broader question here for Democrats is not whether they can learn from Sheehan's tactics, but whether they should embrace her success as the foundation for a full-frontal assault on Bush's war policy. Thus we come back to the question of what exactly Sheehan's politics are. Although Sheehan hasn't been terribly consistent in her criticism of Bush, there is no question about what her politics are now: The war in Iraq is not a noble cause. Pull out now before any more of our soldiers get killed.
In a certain sense, the question of whether or not to embrace Sheehan is same as the question Democrats faced in January of 2004: Should the party close ranks behind a charismatic anti-war firebrand or should it run to the center by adopting a more nuanced approach to the war? My sense is that John Kerry's loss has led numerous Democrats to embrace the Sheehan approach.
Cindy Sheehan has a simple question for the President:
Is Iraq a noble cause?...I believe Democrats who advocate a "stay the course" plan for Iraq have a responsibility to answer the same question.
So, is Iraq a noble cause?
This question generated 64 responses, almost all of which describe the war in Iraq as a manifest failure, both moral and strategic, that must be brought to an end right now. Yet as one of those commentators pointed, leading Democrats such as Bill Clinton adamantly insist that we must stand by the people of Iraq as they embark on one of the most improbable and ambitious transitions to democracy in the history of the modern world.
Moreover, Clinton insists that one's support or opposition to the initial invasion of Iraq is absolutely irrelevant to whether we should stand by its people now, in their time of need. That is the moral case for staying in Iraq and describing it as a noble cause. Although Cindy Sheehan relentlessly speaks the language of compassion, she never seems to address the question of whether there are Iraqi mothers just like herself who are sending their sons out to fight an extremely dangerous war against Ba'athist and Al Qaeda terrorism and therefore deserve American support that will save many of their children's lives.
But in addition to the moral question of whether to stay the course in Iraq, there is the strategic question as well. If we pull out of Iraq, then what? This is another question that neither Sheehan nor her supporters seems willing to answer. What if the low-grade civil war in progress today erupts into a full-scale bloodletting of the kind that took place in the aftermath of the first Gulf War? And what if the Ba'athists and their Al Qaeda allies prevail in that war and transform Iraq into a staging ground for internation terrorists attacks, a la Afghanistan except with oil?
But perhaps the most important question for those who support Sheehan is not moral or strategic but partisan politcal. The advocates of a pullout seem confident in their conviction that it is the moral and practical thing to do. But what about 2008?
You can call Bush either stubborn or principled, but the bottom line is that he seems dead set on keeping tens of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq for as long as he is President. And the Republican Congress seems to have few qualms about providing Bush with the necessary funds. Recently, there has been widespread speculation in the media about the administration's semi-secret plan to pull out, but those stories never seem to pan out.
So what we are looking at for 2008 is another scenario, similar to 2004, in which American soldiers are fighting for their lives and the Democrats aren't sure whether the centrist voters that decide presidential elections will trust a Democratic party that continues to embrace its Vietnam heritage of demanding prudent withdrawals rather than investing ever more resources in the prospect of victory.
My intuition is that the response of centrists will depend on just how badly the war is going. What the Democrats really need in order to make their anti-war stance both marketable and credible is for the army itself to turn against the war, along with a good number of prominent Republicans. Otherwise, the GOP will once again be able to brand the Democrats as the party of appeasement and surrender.
That is really what's at stake in the debate about Cindy Sheehan. The Democrats have to decide whether they are willing to gamble their political future on the United States losing another war in the manner that it lost Vietnam. Even opposing that sort of quagmire has had an enduring impact on the Democrats' reputation as guardian of our national security. If democracy prevails in Iraq, the Democrats may find that they have cemented their status as the minority party of this generation.