Friday, November 10, 2006

Take My Hand and Off We'll Stride - In Praise of Righting the Course

While I think it is safe to say that the American public issued a stern rebuke of the Iraq war and its conduct, I'm not so sure it was as clear an endorsement for an immediate withdrawal - to hell with the consequences. Even if it was, cognitive dissonance is a formidable force - and even if our minds seem made up at the moment, we are not immune to a relapse, or the embellishing blur of euphoric recall.

As we have been learning, slowly, Iraq is a no-win situation. We have unleashed mayhem and strife that has assumed it's own momentum. Any resolution of our involvement in Iraq will require painful choices that lead to intense human suffering. Stay, or go, Iraq will burn for some time more. The main debate now should center around the question of how to contain the fire. It is an exercise in damage control that offers little in the way of feel-good posturing.

Perhaps Iraq would be best served by the commencement of a plan for full withdrawal - even if the logistics are phased out over a number of months still. Maybe, instead, a strategic redeployment of troops designed to lessen their footprint/provocative qualities, coupled with a stabilizing strategy engineered via a regional framework that involves cooperation with Iraq's neighbors (Syria and Iran included - which would make some normalization a prerequisite) would lead to more favorable results. Further, Iraqis aside, which path best serves our own interests?

Deciding on the optimal policy will necessitate sober analysis. A truly healthy, efficient and productive policy making apparatus, however, requires a dialectical approach to such complex questions - one in which competing ideas can be argued, debated, tested, challenged, amended and modified. But it was exactly this type of policy-making process that was so sorely lacking in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and one that in many ways is still absent from the White House. Dissent was crushed, differing opinions ignored and ideological conformity was favored over expertise.

This is where I see the Democratic victory on election day coming in. Not in the sense that the Democrats should immediately jump out in front of the dialectic themselves with their own pre-conceived plan, and bang the drums for withdrawal regardless of sound counter-arguments or legitimate warnings. Not only would that represent a breakdown of the process in a mirror image of the Bush administration's own shortcomings, but it would open the door for the Republicans to pin the tail of defeat on the donkey of the Democratic Party. The Cunning Realist put it thusly when discussing the prospects for a change of course under Gates:

Here's the problem: At this point, even a good choice like Gates is a bit like using Crazy Glue to fix that priceless vase you just broke and had forgotten to insure. By his own tiresome rhetoric, Bush has defined victory in Iraq as that day/week/month/year when people who've been fighting for centuries magically stop; anything less would mean ceding the country to "terrorists." In doing so, he's guaranteed that if/when we do leave -- under a future administration, obviously -- our departure will have the odor of retreat regardless of how we spin it.

The Democrats' victory gives them an opportunity to reverse the rotation of that spin, though. The Democrats now have their own bully pulpit with which to educate the American public about the true nature of the war, the unlikelihood of "victory" as defined by the Bush administration, the utter incompetence displayed along the way, and a whole host of other vital pieces of the story that have not been fully aired, examined or digested. Sometimes we in the blogosphere fail to recognize that not all people pay attention to the news and the political realm with the same rapt obsessiveness that charaterizes our medium. In reality, most Americans display only a passing interest - though the ongoing descent of the Iraq war has marked one of those moments that attracts eyeballs.

That is why the Democrats must take advantage of this moment to set the stage and tell the story now that it has a captive audience - and some power. Again, The Cunning Realist:

I'm looking for the Dems to provide three things, not necessarily in this order: oversight, oversight, and oversight. Subpoena power falls under that rubric; it's time to find out more about what happened during the past few years, isn't it? While Dems ran on a "change the course" platform regarding Iraq, it will be interesting to see what course they articulate now that the elections are over. If Bush remains intransigent...then investigative power becomes more important; it gives the Dems leverage to force changes in Iraq policy, and it will allow them to neutralize Republican charges of "defeatism" and "not supporting the troops" by exposing the underbelly to an angry public and keeping the outrage factor on their side.

Where the Bush administration rejected the dialectic in favor of rigid discipline, the Democrats can force them to reckon with a competing analysis - armed with their own refurbished cudgels. Where the Bush administration would like to paint the Democrats as defeatists responsible for the downward turn in Iraq, the Democrats can preemptively attack the imminent historical revisionism with subpoena smart bombs, and the "shock and awe" of hearings under oath.

Once that foundation is laid, we can move to find a workable strategy going forward. But we must realize that in order to compel the Bush administration to come to grips with their own failures and change course as desired, and to ensure that the GOP is prevented from performing a scapegoat redirection - that could facilitate future wars with Iran and Syria - the Democrats must use the leverage of oversight to right the course. Calling for an immediate withdrawal at this point in time puts the cart before the donkey.

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