Friday, June 03, 2005

Democrats need to get over themselves on Iraq

Riffing off Atrios, Matt Yglesias talks about the fundamental problem Democrats have with coming up with a "forward looking" policy on Iraq:

Far too large a proportion of the party's rank-and-file are anti-war for a nominee to position herself as a credible Iraq hawk. Conversely, far too large a proportion of the party's national security elites were pro-war to put together a viable anti-war team. The truth of the matter is that most pro-war liberals seem willing to privately admit that they were mistaken about the war (I was), but don't want to publicly say so lest their credibility take the hit that necessarily comes with admitting you were wrong about a very important issue.

This fundamental conflict is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla that keeps Democrats from having an open discussion about just how to solve the problem that is Iraq. But this isn't just a problem of Democratic hawks (a term I prefer since I don't think anyone on the Democratic side is really "pro-war") being unwilling to admit they were wrong. It's also a problem of the opponents of the war puffing up their credentials by asserting that they were correct. Hawks may be unwilling to admit to mistakes, but the Doves may be to eager to toot their own horns.

The truth of the matter is that even those who opposed the war weren't always on the correct side. The reasons they opposed the war then may not be the same as the reasons they oppose it now. For example, many opponents point to the lack of WMDs and the growing evidence for deliberate fraud on the part of the Bush administration as evidence they were right. But if neither of those things had happened would the opponents still consider their opposition justified? I suspect many of them would. I know that my opposition at the time was more from the gut than from the head. I have since developed a more thoughtful foundation for my opposition, but part of that is the cumulative experience of the last two years.

My point is that neither side of the debate have all that much to be proud of. We must be willing to put aside our personal animus in order to address the wider issue: how do we get ourselves out of the mess that Bush has gotten us into.

And really, isn't it Bush who we should really be blaming for this?

The best way out of this dilemma would be for Democrats to focus on the issue at hand -- what do we do now -- but that gets you back to the basic point that given the mistakes of the past, nothing we do now is going to produce a particularly happy outcome.

This is a debate Democrats are going to have to have eventually. Wouldn't it be best for us to have it now instead of during the heat of the 2006/2008 election cycles? If we need to have a public airing of our grievances over this issue then maybe we should do it sooner rather than later. I'm envisioning a conference in which all sides of this issue are invited to participate and openly air their opinions and frustrations, with the caveat that the reason for doing so is not simply to bitch but ultimately to resolve the conflicts within the party and unite in the common goal of developing a "forward looking" solution to the problem of Iraq.

This conference shouldn't be organized by any one Democratic group. If MoveOn or the DLC were to do it then many would view it as a way for that group to push their own agenda. But if MoveOn AND the DLC were to jointly organize it then maybe, just maybe, their might be some hope that we can move the dialog forward.

Just a thought.


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