August 21, 2005

Adios, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehen

Posted by David Adesnik

How the time does fly when you're having so much fun.  Once again, I would like to thank Michael Signer for generously inviting me to be a guest blogger here on Democracy Arsenal, as well as the rest of the DA crew for welcoming an outsider into the inner sanctum.

But perhaps above all, I would like to thank all of you who read Democracy Arsenal, since having an such an intelligent and engaged audience is what makes blogging really worth it.


August 21, 2005 12:08 PM | | TrackBack (0)

August 19, 2005

Inside the Arab Mind

Posted by David Adesnik

Burning_flag_1 Those of us with overpriced, overhyped academic credentials like to think of policy analyis as a firmly rational discipline in which logic and evidence serve as the basis for sound judgments.  However, IMHO, there is so much uncertainty in world politics that even the best-informed analysis must depend on an extraordinary degree of speculation.

My case in point is the standard American discussion about Arab popular opinion, to which some analysts condescendingly refer as "the Arab street".  In his inaugural post as a guest blogger here on DA, Michael Kraig called into question

The status quo policy conception that the anger in the Middle East is due to internal, domestic repression/ oppression/injustice under autocratic governments, and that the anger toward Israel, the West, the US, and the globalizing world order is a byproduct of this, or an escape valve for this.

According to Michael, this argument is

Wrong -- or at least, half-wrong.  There is of course an "escape valve" factor at work here...But would this anger and hate disappear if the Middle East were democratized at the domestic level?  The answer is, simply, no.  Because the feelings about lack of justice, or lack of democracy, at the INTERNATIONAL level are just as acute and just as real for many citizens and officials alike throughout the Middle East, and only the US supporting the rule of law at the international level will appease this anger and truly bring about a sea-change in relations and perceptions.

To Michael's great credit, his observations are based on extensive discussions he had during two months of business travel throughout the Middle East.  The opinions his counterparts expressed are ones that should be taken seriously.

Nonetheless, as any student of public opinion knows, it is extraordinarily hard to gauge the instensity of an interview subject's preferences even when one is fairly certain about what those preferences are.  In other words, I don't doubt for a second that the overwhelming majority of Arabs sincerely resent Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians or perhaps even the existence of Israel itself, not to mention being critical of the United States for defending Israeli interests. 

But what I really want to know is how intense these feelings are.  For example, one great challenge for the United States is to confront the surprising degree of sympathy for Al Qaeda and its methods in the Arab world.  To what degree will this sympathy diminish in those Arab nations such as Lebanon where the transition to democracy has begun? 

As Michael acknowledges, some of the anger directed at the United States and Israel is the byproduct of domestic repression and should therefore diminish as a result of domestic liberalization. Thus, I am inclined to say that the difference between Michael's position and my own is one of degree and not of kind.  The question then is how one should go about determining to what degree Arab anger is the product of actual greivances rather than an indirect response to domestic oppression.

In 2003, Foreign Affairs published an excellent essay on this subject by Michael Scott Doran, a professor of Near Eastern Studies.  Doran's analysis focuses on Arab attitudes toward the Palestinian question, rather than Arab resentment of the United States.  Doran argues that most expressions of concern about the Palestinians in the Arab world are rhetorical gambits designed to entrap one's domestic opponents rather than an expression of an actual desire to do something for the Palestinians.

One fascinating illustration of Doran's point is his description of a protest in the impoverished region of Al Jawf in northeastern Saudi Arabia.  Doran writes that:

Al Jawf has earned the distinction of being the only place in the Saudi kingdom repeatedly and consistently to defy laws criminalizing popular demonstrations. Matters reached a head last April 5 [of 2002 -ed.] in the town of Sakaka, where about 4,000 angry young men congregated in town squares, burned Israeli and American flags, and called on Arab states to take action on behalf of the Palestinians. To restore order Saudi authorities had to dispatch three transport planes carrying 500 riot police, and for weeks afterward these forces continued to patrol the area.

As extensive reporting in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds al-Arabi has made clear, the demonstrations "were organized in solidarity with the Palestinians and in protest over the neglect which the [Al Jawf] region is suffering at the hands of the government."  Al Jawf is one of the most backward places in Saudi Arabia. Many towns in the region, including Sakaka, lack electricity and the basic amenities of modern life. Located far from ports and oil revenues, lacking access to the corridors of power, the residents of Al Jawf feel deprived.

In Saudi Arabia, the punishment for dissidents is usually imprisonment or worse.  Yet by framing their protest as an action on behalf of the Palestinians, the residents of Al Jawf made it impossible for the monarchy to punish them as traitors.  After all, at least officially, the House of Saud shares the protesters sympathy for the Palestinians.

As Doran points out, even Osama bin Laden's concern for the Palestinians arose as a byproduct of his hatred for the House of Saud and other pro-American dictatorships.  Only after 9/11 did bin Laden start to describe as Israeli behavior as a leading justification for his terrorism.  Personally, I think it is safe to infer that bin Laden had no love lost for Israel before 9/11.  Yet his behavior speaks volumes about the intensity of his preferences; he may have been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause but devoted himself to the struggle against his own government and its American patron.

Another important point that Doran makes is that even if one were to assume that Arab anger is primarily a response to Israeli transgressions rather than domestic oppression, it may simply not be possible for either the United States or Israel to allay such anger since:

Americans and Arabs nurture such different conceptions of what constitutes a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it is hard to imagine Washington ever adopting a policy toward it that would be truly popular in the Arab world. The most "pro-Palestinian" policy realistically conceivable would look something like the Clinton plan presented in late 2000, but even this would entail major Palestinian compromises (such as the renunciation of the right of pre-1967 refugees to return to their homes inside Israel proper).

Of course, this point in no way constitutes evidence for the assertion that Arab anger is more of a response to domestic oppression than it is to foreign encroachments.  Nonetheless, it does throw the ball back into Michael's court by demanding to know how exactly progressives might attenuate Arab resentment of the United States and Israel.  Michael?

August 19, 2005 04:43 PM | | Comments (27) | TrackBack (1)

August 18, 2005

Rumsfeld is evil. Eeeevil!

Posted by David Adesnik

Rumsfeld_1 The latest round of speculation about a rushed American withdrawal from Iraq began more than three weeks ago with a WaPo report entitled US Signals Spring Start for Pull Out.  The story was irresistible.  Thanks to George Bush's constant and unequivocal declarations that we will stay in Iraq until we've won, any hint of a planned withdrawal carried with it intimations of hypocrisy.

The process of speculation rapidly intensified four days ago, when the WaPo ran a top-of-the-front-page story entitled U.S. Lowers Sights on What Can Be Achieved in Iraq. The essence of the story was that a "senior official" and "another U.S. official" had concluded that even an indefinite occupation could not achieve the objectives that President Bush had for Iraq.

As things now stand, progressive analysts seem to be 100% persuaded that the remarks of these unnamed officials represent the opening salvo in the administration's effort to declare victory and go home or, less kindly stated, to cut and run.  If you scroll down, you can see that Heather, Derek and Stanton have all elaborated some version of this hypothesis.

One scenario that none of these progressive hypotheses address is the possibility that the unnamed officials who spoke to the WaPo are not operating on behalf of the administration as a whole, but instead represent the agenda of an embattled faction within the cabinet.  In contrast, prominent pro-war conservatives have almost uniformly lain responsibility for all of this withdrawal talk at the door of Donald Rumsfeld.

Most vociferous of all is the criticism coming from William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard.  In an editorial entitled Bush v. Rumsfeld, Kristol lashes out at the SecDef for his "weakness and defeatism".  As Kristol goes on to argue, the President himself seems to have decisively rejected much of the pro-withdrawal sentiment coming out of the Pentagon:

On Wednesday, speaking in Texas, the president used the word "war" 15 times, and the phrase "war on terror" five. "Make no mistake about it," the president exclaimed...

And so, the president added, "I hear all the time, 'Well, when are you bringing the troops home?' And my answer to you: 'As soon as possible, but not before the mission is complete.'" As the president said Thursday, "We will stay the course. We will complete the job in Iraq."

For liberals and progressives who have little to no faith in Bush's ability to tell the truth, all of this tough-talk may seem nothing more than an elaborate charade designed to mask the impending cut-and-run.  But my sense is that Bush, much like Reagan before him, has no interest in this kind of charade.  If there is a message to deliver, he will deliver it himself.

In the blogosphere, Kristol's criticism of the SecDef has been echoed by intelligent hawks such as Greg Djerejian of the Belgravia Dispatch, who writes that:

Mr. President, this hubris-ridden, incompetent Secretary is increasingly becoming a major liability to you...

If a key member of your team doesn't understand that an Iraq characterized by civil war or dueling militias is a strategic and moral failure, he must be taken off your team. National interest must trump any residual loyalty...If [your] Defense Secretary is not on this page anymore, [your] Defense Secretary must go.

Although Greg shoots straight 100% of the time, I think one has to consider the possibility that a veteran infighter such as Kristol has decided to make Rumsfeld the scapegoat for all of this withdrawal talk even though, perhaps, Kristol has private concerns that the President may have more sympathy for Rumsfeld's position than his public statements imply. 

By the same token, John McCain has also issued an unequivocal denunication of any planned withdrawal while suggestiong that the Pentagon, and not the White House, is responsible for the current bout of speculation.  Yet when McCain made this argument during an interview with Chris Wallace, Wallace asked the Senator a fairly logical and perceptive question:

You seem to be suggesting that it's coming from the pentagon, and that they are pushing for withdrawals, when the political people at the White House, who you think would be the most sensitive on that issue, are saying: "No...we're going to stand firm."

Why would the Pentagon be softer in this regard than the White House?

Being his usual self, McCain responded "I have no idea...I can't explain it."  And, of course, from an electoral perspective it makes no sense for the Pentagon to be more dovish than the White House.  But I think the real issue here is ideology.  Rumsfeld has simply never signed off on Bush's democracy promotion agenda, either for Iraq or for the broader Middle East.  A fairly traditional realist, Rumsfeld has every reason, especially as SecDef, to oppose an occupation that has tied down almost our entire Army and left us with only air and naval forces capable of responding to a crisis in South Korea, the Taiwan Strait, or elsewhere.

Once again, this explanation will presumably carry no water for liberals and progressives, who don't think Bush is the least bit sincere when it comes to his supposed support for a global democratic revolution.  But even though I think Bush is sincere and has been for a very long time, he is still a politician who has to reckon with the impact that his principles have on his approval rating.

Now, it is important to remember that liberals have been talking up a "cut and run" scenario since the fall of 2003.  Back then, they said that Bush would never risk running for re-election with our troops still on the ground in Iraq.  Then, as the election approached, liberals began to assume that Bush was concerned about looking weak but would pull out right at the beginning of his second term, so that he could focus on other priorities such as Social Security reform.

In short, there will always be some explanation available for why Bush's self-interest would dictate a rushed withdrawal from Iraq.  The question is, can we confidently say that the rise of Cindy Sheehan and the intensification of the anti-war movement has put the President under more pressure to withdraw than ever before?  Or is Bush thinking to himself that these are just the dog days of August, and that what Americans really want from their President is idealism and resolve?

PS Special thanks to MH for pointing out some of the editorials and blog posts quoted above.

August 18, 2005 02:19 PM | | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)

August 17, 2005

The Definition of A Noble Cause

Posted by David Adesnik

Luke_stricklin_1 There's about a forty mile stretch of US-29 that runs from Opal to Ruckersville in central Virginia.  In my mind, those forty miles are the graveyard of rock 'n roll.  From Washington DC down to Opal, you can listen to DC101.  One you make it down to Ruckersville, you can pick up 91.9 WNRN coming out of Charlottesville.

The only station I've found that comes in clearly from Opal down to Ruckersville is 93.3 WFLS, "Virginia's Best Country".  Living in a red state for the past twelve months, I've often thought that I should try my best to develop an appreciation for red state music.  To be honest, it hasn't worked out that well.  Often, I just turn off the radio and enjoy the scenery from Opal down to Ruckersville.

But this time I was driving after dark and really needed some music to keep my energy levels up.  And what I heard blew my mind.  First I heard Trace Adkins sing Arlington.  It's a wonderful song.  It's a story told by a soldier killed in Iraq who discovers that he is being buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  He tells us not to cry for him because:

I'm proud to be on this peaceful piece of property,
I'm on sacred ground and I'm in the best of company,
I'm thankful for those things I've done,
I can rest in peace, I'm one of the chosen ones, I made it to Arlington.

I often wonder about the Red States' support for the war in Iraq.  Conservatives have always distinguished themselves by their readiness to use force in order to protect the United States from those who threaten it. 

But now that Saddam's cache of chemical and biological has been exposed as a phantom, why do Red State voters support the war?  Is it because they support the president, full stop?  Is it because they support the soliders, full stop?  Or have a good number of them actually converted to George Bush's crusading democratic faith, which has so little in common with conservatives' traditional definition of the national interest?

In the second verse of Arlington, the narrator recalls that:

I remember Daddy brought me here when I was eight,
We searched all day to find out where my Granddad lay,
And when we finally found that cross,
He said, "Son this is what it cost to keep us free".

The narrator this implies that Iraq is also a war "to keep us free".  But how many Americans buy that?  Although I adamantly support the war on the grounds that only the democratization of the Middle East can ensure our ultimate victory in the War on Terror, there is only a distant and complex relationship between my personal freedom and the war in Iraq.  If conservatives' support for the war derives its strength from a sense of America being threatened, how long can that support truly last?

And then I heard Luke Stricklin sing American By God's Amazing Grace.  Luke Stricklin (photo above) is a National Guardsman who returned this past March from a twelve month tour of duty in Iraq.  There is no description that can do justice to his song, so I will simply reprint the lyrics, which even without the music are compelling and inspirational:

Bottom of my boots sure are gettin' worn
There's a lot of holes in this faded uniform
My hands are black with dirt and so is my face
I ain't never been to hell
But it couldn't be any worse than this place.
Tell my wife don't worry 'cause I know what to do
It makes you feel better sometimes, but don't know if it's true.
I know if I die it's just my time to go
But I pray to God every day that I may get back home.

Chorus: Well when you've seen what I've seen
Things don't seem so bad
Quit worrying 'bout what you ain't got, thank God for what you have
'Cause I could be raising my family in this place
But I was born an American
By God's Amazing Grace.

For the last twelve months I've had a new address
The neighborhood smells like sewage and the streets are lined with trash.
You never know what's gonna be the next thing to explode
But unlike these people, I have another home.
It breaks my heart to see these kids out on the streets
Walking barefoot through the trash, diggin' for something to eat.
I give them what I got, just to let them know I care
And I thank God it's not my son that's standing there.


You want to talk about it, you better keep it short
'Cause I got a lot of lost time I gotta make up for.
Really don't care why Bush went in to Iraq
I know what I done there and I'm damn sure proud of that.

You got somethin' bad to say about the USA
You better save it for different ears 'less you want to crawl away.
And I laugh in your face when you say you've got it bad
Until you've spent some time on the streets of Baghdad.


After recovering from my initial shock, I began to wonder if Karl Rove had written that song.  (You can listen to some of it here.) How could an actual Guardsman from Arksanas, just 23 years old, who suffered through twelve months in Iraq, feel that way about the war? Of course, I feel that way about the war.  But it isn't my life on the line.  I haven't had to test my ideology against the actual experience of democracy promotion.

I seriously did wonder if the song was some sort of hoax.  But for what it's worth, the Associated Press did a story on Luke Stricklin, so I'm going to assume that he really is the real thing.  It turns out that Stricklin first recorded the song in Iraq using a $25 guitar that an Iraqi boy found for him at a street market.  With the help of laptop and microphone, he went to work.  Once again, it's a story almost impossible to believe.

This is the definition of a noble cause.  This is the answer to Cindy Sheehan's question.  Luke Stricklin doesn't have a team of speechwriters or a degree in international relations.  Nor does he describe America as threatened, like Trace Adkins does.  He is simply proud of what he and his country have been able to do on behalf of others.

In contrast to Bush, Stricklin openly acknowledges that there are serious questions to be asked about why the United States invaded Iraq.  But now our mission is clear.  (See boldface above.  Emphasis added.)  Surely it is noble to defend one's homeland from foreign attack.  But how much more noble is it to risk one's life in order to protect a nation of strangers from deprivation and terrorism?

Perhaps it is not wise for the United States to commit so much blood and treasure to the struggle for democracy in Iraq.  Perhaps.  But it most certainly is noble.

August 17, 2005 12:44 AM | | Comments (75) | TrackBack (6)

August 14, 2005

Nothing to fear in Egypt except fear itself?

Posted by David Adesnik

Mona_eltahawyIn a WaPo opinion column, Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy (photo opposite) reports that during her annual visit to Cairo, many of her friends told her that the Egyptian people had "broken the barrier of fear" on which the Mubarak regime depends for its longevity.  Eltahawy writes that:

I have never heard so many relatives and friends take such an interest in Egyptian politics or -- more important -- feel that they had a stake in them. This opposition movement holds almost weekly demonstrations. It draws Egyptians from across the political spectrum: leftists, liberals and Islamists. And, more worrisome for Mubarak, it has solid roots in the country's middle class: Journalists, lawyers, judges and university professors have all thrown their hats in.

Before taking an active interest in Egyptian politics, Eltahawy's friends were preoccupied with the sins of America and Israel in Palestine and Iraq.  Eltahawy doesn't say, but seems to imply, that the projection of her friends' anger abroad was the inevitable consequence of thier impotence on the homefront.  But now that has changed:

In Cairo I met reform activists and was lucky enough to march with 300 fellow Egyptians in a demonstration through Shubra, a working-class neighborhood weighed down by the unemployment and poverty that are constant concerns for many Egyptians. It was the first time since the anti-Mubarak protests began in December that protesters had taken their message to the street.

Riot police, who had previously confined demonstrations to one spot, were nowhere to be seen. Most of us knew it was because two days before the protest, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had admonished the Egyptian government for the May beatings and said that peaceful supporters of democracy should be free from violence.

In other words, words get results.  As Eltahawy rightly observes, the Bush administration must keep up the pressure if it wants to see real results.  Democracy is still a long way off, but its foundations are now being laid. 

And to think that just seven months ago, the prospect of serious reform in Egypt was almost unimaginable.  Only the fools seemed to believe back in February that "the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

August 14, 2005 10:07 PM | in Democracy, Middle East | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Cindy Sheehan, Democratic Savior?

Posted by David Adesnik

Sheehan2No matter what you think of her politics, you have to give Cindy Sheehan credit for staging one of the most brilliant pieces of political theater that Americans have encountered in a very long time.

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.

For example, over at TPM Cafe, blogger cscs asks:

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. 

August 14, 2005 06:00 PM | in Democracy, Iraq, Progressive Strategy | Comments (30) | TrackBack (2)

Is there an iron fist in the Democrats' velvet glove?

Posted by David Adesnik

This post isn't about foreign policy per se, but it is about whether and how the Democrats' can retake control of issues they have lost, foreign policy being just one.  This morning, the WaPo ran an analysis column by Dana Milbank that asked whether Democrats lack the ability of the GOP to go for the jugular.

Milbank's case in point is the Democratic response to a patently dishonest ad by NARAL, which accused John Roberts of supporting those who bomb abortion clinics.  On Friday morning, the WaPo denounced the NARAL ad in an editorial entitled Abortion Smear.  Also on Friday, liberal columnist EJ Dionne dismissed the accusations against Roberts as "outrageous".  Then, the NYT editorial board joined the chorus as well.

According to Milbank's analysis column, this sort of liberal self-flaggellation provides a stark contrast to what happned last summer, when,

Amid similar criticism against another controversial ad, most Republicans brushed aside demands to repudiate Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Milbank has chosen his words carefully, but still leaves a somewhat misleading impression.  While refusing to condemn the Swift Vets, top Republicans, including the President, were also extraordinarily careful not to say anything that might have been construed by the media as an endorsement of the Swift Vets' accusations.  (I confronted this evasiveness first-hand when I, along with other bloggers, interviewed RNC chairman Ed Gillespie last summer at the GOP convention in New York.)

Did Bush have a moral obligation to condemn the Swift Vets explicitly?  Or would have expecting such a condemnation from Bush amounted to demanding that he play by the same rules to which Milbank attributes the Democrats' weakness?

Either way, the adamant refusal of Bush, Gillespie and others to say anything positive about the Swift Vets demonstrates that there clearly are lines that the GOP will not cross.  Depending on your perspective, you can chalk this up either to a sense of fair play or to the realization that the media would have eviscerated Bush for saying anything positive about the Swift Vets.

Thus, the question to ask is not whether the Democrats should abandon their ethical standards, but whether they should adjust them slightly downwards in the name of expediency.  Before endorsing such a notion, I think it is important to point one critical difference between the Swift Vet and NARAL offensives.  As Kevin Drum astutely observes,

The Swift Boat folks were able to manufacture uncertainty by focusing on an event that was genuinely hard to gather facts about. It was something that happened over 30 years ago...

The NARAL ad, conversely, focused on an event in which the facts were well established and every news organization in the country was able to figure out within hours that the charges against Roberts were dubious at best. Sure, partisans could have stuck with NARAL, but the court of public opinion matters, and the NARAL ad was so easy to fact check that there was never any chance of winning in that court. That's dumb politics.

Although Kevin states unequivocally that he believes the Democrats to be morally superior to the GOP, his observation about the sheer stupidity of the NARAL ad explains why Milbank and others are wrong to chalk up the Democratic backlash against NARAL as a sign of weakness.

But there are other cases in point.  According to Milbank

In June, Democrats demanded that Bush aide Karl Rove apologize for saying that liberals wanted "therapy and understanding for our attackers." Rove refused to apologize, and Republicans leapt to his defense. Just before the Rove episode, Republicans demanded an apology from Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the number two Democrat in the Senate, who likened U.S. treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay to techniques used by Nazis. Democrats joined in criticizing Durbin, who eventually delivered a tearful apology on the Senate floor.

I think this example begins to get at the question of whether Democrats should go for the jugular when attempting to re-establish themselves as the party of national security.  I certainly think Rove's comments were appalling.  Yet Durbin brought Hitler (and Stalin) into play.  As Kevin would say, that's dumb politics.

From a longer-term perspective, the Democrats need to ask themselves whether it is possible to attack Bush's foreign policy more viciously and more effectively without slipping into a position, such as Durbin's, that can easily be labeled as anti-American or unpatriotic.  As I see it, the problem isn't that Democrats are afraid to bare their fangs, but rather that the party is so divided that it can't agree on how to attack Bush.

The left wing of the party would be glad to aggressively cast the war in Iraq as another Vietnam, but the centrist wing of the party is committed to promoting democracy in Iraq regardless of whether the invasion was justified in the first place.  The centrists would be glad to attack Bush more forcefully for his failure to win the war in Iraq, but that would imply that America should commit more resources to the confict, rather than pulling out (as the Vietnam analogy suggests).

The bottom line is that unless the Democrats can speak with one voice, turning up the volume will only create static instead of taking the national security debate back from the GOP.

August 14, 2005 01:01 AM | in Progressive Strategy | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)

August 13, 2005


Posted by David Adesnik

Reagan_cowboy_hatMy name is David Adesnik and I would like to express my gratitude to Michael Signer and the rest of the folks here at Democracy Arsenal for having me as their guest this coming week.  The rest of the time, you can find my opinions posted over at OxBlog, where I started blogging in September 2002, when the blogosphere was still young.

Of course, I'm not a professional blogger.  My day job for quite some time now has been as a graduate student in international relations, working on a dissertation entitled "Reagan's Democratic Crusade: Rhetoric and the Remaking of American Foreign Policy."  My home university is Oxford, although I have spent the past two years in the United States because of my research.

As everyone at Oxford could tell, I am most certainly not British.  I am a New Yorker born and raised and I wouldn't have it any other way.  Politically, I am adrift.  Five years ago I was a staunch liberal who barely understood how any intelligent American could vote for George Bush.  Now I am an independent.  What hasn't changed is that I am committed as passionately as ever to promoting democracy across the globe.

When it comes to democracy promotion, I find it hard to fully identify with the approach of either the Democrats or the Republicans.  Although I consider President Bush's Second Inaugural Address to be a historic (and sincere) statement of American idealism, I have often found his administration's implementation of those ideals to be lackluster at best.

On the other hand, I find it hard not to be ashamed when a Democratic presidential candidate such as John Kerry says that we should be closing firehouses in Baghdad instead of in Ohio.  I firmly believe that this sort of narrow and selfish approach to national security is why so many Americans considered George Bush to be the stronger candidate this past fall.

Like the folks here at DA, I look forward to the day when the Democratic Party rediscovers the idealism of Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, who both understood that our national security depends on both military supremacy and an unflagging commitment to democratic ideals.

So enough about me.  I hope can put up some posts this week that live up to the incredibly high standard set by the regular contributors to this blog.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that I cannot think of any other blog whose authors have demonstrated such an impressive knowledge of the way things work in Washington.

Finally, I just want to say that I will read all of the comments attached to my posts very carefully, because I have learned a tremendous amount from my audience during my time as a blogger.  Without such an intelligent audience, us bloggers would be nothing.

August 13, 2005 07:24 PM | | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)