Friday, December 16, 2005

The Democratic Party's Dilemma - Success in Iraq Could Spell Defeat for Them

“We live in a political world
Turning and a’thrashing about,
As soon as you’re awake, you’re trained to take
What looks like the easy way out.”

- Bob Dylan – “Political World” (1989)

Yesterday’s parliamentary election in Iraq, with about seventy percent of the country’s eligible voters casting ballots, was, clearly, a success. I think it may have created a real dilemma for the Democratic Party.

Nancy Pelosi, possibly seeing the Iraq issue getting away from the Democrats, attempted today to distance herself from earlier Democratic statements on the war:

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday that Democrats should not seek a unified position on an exit strategy in Iraq, calling the war a matter of individual conscience and saying differing positions within the caucus are a source of strength for the party.”

“Pelosi said Democrats will produce an issue agenda for the 2006 elections but it will not include a position on Iraq. There is consensus within the party that President Bush has mismanaged the war and that a new course is needed, but House Democrats should be free to take individual positions, she said.”

“There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position,” Pelosi said in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors.”

Pelosi, who supports John Murtha’s plan to withdraw American forces from Iraq, appears to be trying to moderate the strident rhetoric that’s been floating around, particularly the Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean’s “no can win” statement from a couple of weeks ago:

“In an interview with WOAI radio in San Antonio Monday, the head of the Democratic Party drew a parallel between efforts to hand over security responsibilities to Iraqis and similar efforts during the Vietnam War to the South Vietnamese.
That side ultimately lost the war.
“Of course, the South Vietnamese couldn't manage to support their own country," Dean said. "I do not believe in making the same mistake twice. And America appears to have made the same mistake twice.”
Dean said he wished President Bush “had paid more attention to the history of Iraq before we had gotten in there.”
“The idea that we are going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong,” he said.”

Dean later said that his remarks were taken “a bit out of context.”

I’ve looked at his statement and also listened to the audio of his interview and the context Mr. Dean created was clear. He was asked a question about the training of Iraqi soldiers and policemen and the impact the training would have on the withdrawal of American troops. Dean launched into a statement about Vietnam and Vietnamization, clearly comparing Vietnam to Iraq. He then said, clearly, that the war in Iraq is un-winnable.

Mr. Dean also claimed that the Democratic Party has a strategy for Iraq. That doesn’t seem to square with Ms. Pelosi’s statement that the Democrats should not seek a unified exit strategy. In sorting it out I’ve concluded that Ms. Pelosi’s attempt to recast the things that have been said is a flimsy attempt at trying to hide the Democratic leadership’s real political strategy, which is retreat to gain votes.

Here’s what I, a JFK/Henry Jackson see as the big problem the Democratic Party has created for itself by taking such strident positions. Successes, like yesterday’s elections, work against them. Success puts the Democrats on the defensive. That is, they have hitched their political hopes to the wagon of failure in Iraq. That, in turn, has left them in the unenviable position of being the cheerleaders for insurgent and terrorist success. They’ve pinned their hopes in the misguided notion that failure in Iraq will bring them success at the ballot box.

This morning I read an essay written by Fred Kaplan illustrates my point. Mr. Kaplan, even in the face of yesterday’s success, found more room for pessimism than he could optimism. It appears that democracy may be taking hold in Iraq, but that, according to him, may not be good news:

“A new book, Electing To Fight, by two political scientists—Edward Mansfield of the University of Pennsylvania and Jack Snyder of Columbia—reinforces this pessimism. The book argues that, while mature democracies do tend to be more peaceful and almost never go to war with one another, emerging democracies tend to be more violent and aggressive than any other type of regime—and are more likely to erupt in civil war or revert to autocratic rule.”

“Exceptions, of course, abound: several of the post-Soviet nations of Central and Eastern Europe, some thriving new democracies in Central America. But, working from an exhaustive historical database, Mansfield and Snyder outline the conditions for a successful democratization, among them: a literate populace; a fairly prosperous and diverse economy; and a set of democratic institutions, not least a state apparatus capable of mediating and administering disputes among competing social and political groups.”

Things got worse as the essay went on. At one point, Kaplan added it all up and declared:

“That pretty well sums up Iraqi politics. What we saw today was not simply Iraqis going to vote for a new parliament. We saw Shiites going to vote for Shiite supremacy, if not an outright Islamic state. We saw Sunni Arabs going to vote for some restoration of Sunni power. We saw Kurds going to vote for the enhancement of Kurdish autonomy.”

While he never said that democracy in Iraq couldn’t succeed, he did leave the distinct impression that success was highly unlikely.

I gave some thought to what Mr. Kaplan had to say and the more I did the more I came to see that the same things could just as easily be said about the American political process. I’ve voted in enough elections in my lifetime to know that Democrats, Republicans, Independents vote for their party’s supremacy. And, I feel it’s safe and sane to say that the Democratic Party, like the Sunnis in Iraq, want their supporters to vote for them so that they’ll be restored to power. On the matter of autonomy, I wonder if Mr. Kaplan missed that red/blue map of the United States a few years ago. What option to this messiness would he prefer? Another dictator like Saddam? I’ll bet if we let it be known we’re looking for a strongman to stabilize the situation democracy may have created in Iraq, Osama himself, or possibly Saddam and his defense team, would gladly take the job.

When I lived in New Jersey back in the nineties my wife and I would occasionally go camping along the Delaware River with a group from our church. On one of those trips a small group of them got themselves caught out on a cold, dark night. They’d started out thinking they’d spend a few hours floating down the river. Instead, the trip took hours, and became a real ordeal. The sun went down, the temperatures plunged into the thirties. Most in the group were only wearing shorts or swimming trunks, which made them eminently unprepared for what happened. Thankfully, they did make it back to the campsite at around midnight. They were chilled to the bone, but they did make it back safely. Later, when the group had warmed up, one of them gave me an account of what had happened. One of the most telling things I learned was that one person in the group became the critic, trying to interpret every failure, every mistake, they’d made. The litany went on and on as the group inched their way back to the campsite. “We should have done this.” “We should have done that.” “We shouldn’t have even started out at all.” After hearing this over and over and seeing the negative impact it was having on the younger members of the group, Wally, my friend, shouted out the words everyone really needed to hear. “”Shut up, Darryl. Just shut up and keep walking with the rest of us!”

That’s what I, a Democrat, want to say to Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, Fred Kaplan, John Kerry, John Murtha, Joe Biden and the alliance of fear. “Shut up!” “Align yourself with the people of Iraq and Americans doing their very bestto ensure that democracy succeeds there.”

I recall an even earlier time in my life that parallels what’s going on now in the American political scene. I grew up in a pretty tough neighborhood, and had to spend a good part of my leisure time fending off hoodlums, gang members, neighborhood bullies, and local toughs. I was about fifteen or sixteen when it happened. A “friend” of mine had created some enemies in the neighborhood, which wasn’t particularly difficult to do. They were out to get him and he needed help. He knew I had a pretty good reputation as a fighter. I wasn’t afraid to fight for the right and I usually won. He sought my support, and I agreed I would stand by him. He then made it clear to everyone in the neighborhood that he was now prepared to stand up to the bullies and toughs who spent their time terrorizing everyone else. In the run-up to the battle he even taunted the enemy, letting them know he was prepared to stand and fight. When the time came for battle and the bloodletting began, though, he abandoned me. I took the beating and he got to criticize how I was conducting my mini-war. There’s a real friend for you.

I think that’s what the Democratic Party is doing to Americans serving in Iraq and the Iraqi people right now. All the party has to offer is an annoying set of lectures which are, I believe, preludes to abandonment. If the strategy is successful, there’s gonna’ be a lot of beating going on and allies will be abandoned. Then, in the flush of victory, they can tell us how it all should have been conducted in the first place.

How can it be that the party of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Henry Jackson has now become the party of retreat? How can it be that the party I once believed stood for principle and democracy has strayed so far from that course? I’d like once again to believe that my party believes in the principle of freedom, but events over the past two years have given me grave doubts. The party has placed its hope for success in future elections on the cynical notion that implicitly supporting tyranny gives them their best chance for success.

The people of Iraq have come a long way. They’ve had to fight, along with America’s finest, insurgents, terrorists, Saddam loyalists, international apathy, and political rancor coming from America. Yesterday, with seventy percent voting in spite of the obstacles, they took a giant step in the right direction.

In pinning their hope for electoral success on failure in Iraq, my party’s leaders have gone down the path of least resistance. It seems appealing; it seems safe. Actually, though, it’s the path of moral cowardice and defeat.

We can, and must, do better! Perhaps the good people of Iraq could send Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi some advisors and give them a primer on what freedom, principle, and loyalty are all about.

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