Thursday, August 18, 2005

Democrats and The Art of War

There's a good post by Armondo on the Democrat's Iraq dilemma up on the dailyKos. In it he refers to this post by Kevin Drum:

Right now, conventional wisdom suggests that Iraq is likely to be bad news for Republicans in the 2006 elections, but if liberals don't watch out, the disconnect that Berman identified could cause an even bigger crackup on the Democratic side. . . . [T]he hawkish establishment . . . got the harder job, because they actually need to change their position. The problem is that it's pretty easy to understand why none of them are willing to embrace immediate withdrawal: not only do they genuinely not think it's a good idea, but they also know perfectly well that similar demands during the Vietnam war wrecked the Democratic party's reputation on national security issues for a generation. Was that unfair? Sure. But unfair or not, they aren't eager to see it happen again.

A couple of points:

1. While it is true that Vietnam hurt Democratic national security credentials, it wasn't just the advocacy for withdrawal that did it. First of all, remember that it was a Democrat who got us heavily involved in Vietnam in the first place (Johnson, taking the ball from Kennedy). Second, remember that subsequent Democratic national security actions contributed to the growing sense of fecklessness, most particularly Jimmy Carter's handling of the Iran hostage situation. So this "advocacy for withdrawal from Vietnam hurt Democrats so we shouldn't advocate for withdrawal from Iraq" is a shaky analogy at best.

2. Part of the reason the Democratic position was overwhelmed by anti-war sentiment in the 60s was precisely because so many Democratic leaders resisted the call for withdrawal for so long. And they did so for precisely the same reasons they are resisting it today. They did not want to appear to be weak on national security by advocating for something that could be labeled "cut and run". Yet they didn't offer any viable alternative solution. Eventually the pressure of reality grew so great that the Democratic national security position collapsed and it has never recovered since then.

This is the core of the dilema. If the Democrats advocate for withdrawal they risk being accused of "cutting and running". But if they DON'T advocate for withdrawal the inevitable crackup in Iraq will eventually force us into a withdrawal as the demands to "bring the troops home" become irresistable. Cindy Sheehan is just the first voice of what will be a growing chorus.

This is what Democrats have to face up to if they are to be taken seriously on foreign policy. While there is a political danger in advocating for withdrawal there is a much greater political danger in NOT advocating for withdrawal. It would be better for Democratic national security credentials if we were to develop a withdrawal policy now while we have the time to do so calmy and rationally. Because if we don't we will have to do it in a panic.

And really, there is no shame in a strategic withdrawal. Sometimes long-term victory requires short-term sacrifice. Perhaps it is time we all re-read The Art of War.

The general who advances without coveting fame
and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only
thought is to protect his country and do good service
for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.


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