Will We Lose the War Over the War (Again)?
Kevin Drum pithily summarizes some thoughts from Tapped about the Democrats' post-election dilemma over Iraq:
Ackerman: If Democrats press too hard on withdrawal from Iraq, the end result will probably be a rerun of the Vietnam myth: we could have won in Iraq, but feckless liberals snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and precipitated a national humiliation. "Over the next fifteen years, this becomes accepted wisdom. A younger generation of liberals, tired of being bludgeoned with the charge, more or less accepts it themselves. Another Republican gets elected, and sets to work combating Iraq Fatigue. We get another war."
Farley: Word. Things might turn out a little better this time since Iraq is a purely Republican war, but maybe not. After all, "Millions of moderate to conservative Americans who had come to support a withdrawal from Vietnam by 1972 found it very easy to convince themselves, by 1980, that the war had been a noble struggle undermined by the malfeasance of counter-culture activists and Congressional Democrats."
Lemieux: Bollocks. "The problem is, the blame-the-war's-opponents narrative will be trotted out and may hold no matter what the Democrats do." Besides, Congress isn't going to defund the war anyway, so this is all just a round of wankerism.
The question here isn't so much about withdrawal, which I believe Ackerman, Farley, and Lemieux all support, but about how to handle withdrawal politically in order to minimize damage to the Democratic Party.
That our side is still fretting about this shows
that not enough people read my posts how difficult the problem is, and it's why I've been so insistent on the need for us to develop a clearer, more consistent message on Iraq. The crux of the problem is that it’s not just about whether Democrats can force a withdrawal; it’s about why we’re withdrawing.
Given a divided government for the next two years, we're locked in a battle of narratives with the Republicans. Dubya isn't insane (at least not entirely) — he (or Cheney or Rove, or whoever) is making a calculated gamble that the long-term benefit of sticking with the "resolve" narrative will overcome the short-term unpopularity of escalating the war… and that whatever fuss they might raise, Democrats won't be able to make them pay a permanent price for it.
So the absence of an effective Democratic narrative isn't just an abstract issue. At this point, it's actually enabling the Bushites to lengthen the war. Dubya and whoever's whispering in his ear think that if they just stay the political course, Democrats will take them off the hook by forcing a withdrawal and taking the blame — repeating their Vietnam experience just as reliably as Charlie Brown running to kick the football before Lucy pulls it away.
The way to change things, as I've written incessantly here, is to upend the tough-versus-weak GOP frame in favor of reality/results versus fantasy and false promises. If Democrats make clear that their actions are based on the best way to defend the country, responding to the real situation in Iraq, and our moral duty to our troops — and the Powell doctrine is just sitting there waiting for Dems to adopt it, as tangible proof — and that Dubya's stance is not really resolve but the weakness of someone too insecure and afraid to admit a mistake, they'll have a strong rhetorical base on which to resist the inevitable attempts at revisionism.
Even better, if the chorus of ridicule over Bush's cowardly posturing from a strong, morally based Democratic party is effective enough, we may even browbeat the loser into changing course in Iraq. Why should we be content with just playing the role that Republicans want us to play?