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In analyzing Joseph Lieberman's loss and its meaning for the US Democratic party, Fred Noyes, writing at CIPS, has hit on the major US policy dilemma regarding Iraq. As he reminds us, Tom Friedman noted about Iraq, "If you break it -- you buy it." The US certainly broke it, and they certainly bought it, at a very high price too.
Noyes gives what he believes ought to be the Democrats' stand on Iraq:
That is not necessarily the case.
The relevant questions are "Can anyone fix Iraq at all?" and "What policy might fix Iraq?" If the situation does not change on the ground, Iraq is almost certainly unfixable. Exposing troops to danger is not sufficient to win a war. If it was, there would be no losers. Someone has to eventually notice that almost no day goes by without headlines like Many dead in Iraq explosion, and Sectarian strife increasing in Iraq, and propose remedies for those problems. The object of the game is not just to punish Bush, but to make Iraq, the Middle East and the world for their inhabitants.
John Kerry lost the election to George Bush in part because Jeb Bush is governor of Florida, but in part because he didn't offer a credible and consistent alternative to Bush's policies in Iraq. "More international involvement" wasn't going to work because no international leader would be crazy enough to share in the Iraq debacle of the US and Britain, no matter how it was packaged.
In 1940 Britain faced a similar debacle. Chamberlain's appeasement policy had brought Britain and Europe to the brink of disaster, and they were about to take a great step forward. The solution was not to change parties, but to change leaders. Churchill had had the right idea about Hitler all along, and offered an alternative policy. In the present case, we are offered either a Republican policy that doesn't work, or the same policy with the label "Democratic" that will not work either, or a policy of "give up and get out" that certainly will not work. There are no workable alternatives on offer it seems.
Palestinians faced a similar problem, and voters solved it by "accountability." The Fatah delivered corrupt government and no diplomatic progress, so they voted for the Hamas, which is even worse. Now they are trying to feel their way back to sanity by fits and starts, but they lack credible leadership.
Israel is facing a similar dilemma, and voters want to solve it in the same way, by "accountability." PM Ehud Olmert and his government seem to be oblivious to criticism of the incompetent conduct of the war in Lebanon. Voters are turning to opposition candidates. If elections were held today, polls say that Benjamin Netanyahu's rightist Likud party would get 24 mandates, and Avigdor Lieberman's (no relation) even more right-wing party would get 15 mandates, enough to elect them. However, the belligerent policies they offer can hardly be suited to reality. It is not the best idea to be belligerent after bungling a war. Moreover, Netanyahu himself was responsible for the penny pinching military budgets that contributed to the problems of the Lebanon war.
For Palestine and Israel there are reasonable policies on offer, but the public and the politicians reject them or ignore them for the time being. For Iraq, there is no satisfactory policy in sight. Noyes notes "Americans at the ballot box may be forced to choose -- yet again -- between two wrong answers." But Lieberman was not offering the right answer, only a third wrong answer. Changing parties to punish the "guilty" is a good idea, and will at least eliminate the worst of the war profiteering, but it won't fix the problem unless the policies are changed. Alternative policies on offer are worse. America bought Iraq when it broke it, but it can't be fixed either by more of the same or by giving up.
Since the beginning of his Presidency, George W. Bush has been a lightning rod for American liberals. Most maddening for the left is not how bad a President George W. Bush is, but the fact that they have been unable to beat him. Not only did Bush win a second term in office, but his Republican Party has also picked up seats since Bush was first elected in 2000. Yet, as liberals have grown angrier with Bush and increasingly frustrated with defeat, they have learned that there is one election that they control, one election they cannot lose: the Democratic Party Primary, selecting the party’s candidate to be placed on the general election ballot.
When Joseph Lieberman, senior and long-time Democratic Senator from Connecticut, lost his primary battle against Ned Lamont, the Democratic liberal base was taking a stand. Joe Lieberman was being punished for his unwavering support of President Bush in waging an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.
Nevertheless, the primary battle in Connecticut may have national repercussions. Joe Lieberman is a moderate and has long provided Democrats with a moderate voice, not only in the Capitol Building, but also on the national evening news. Other Democrats are also in the news; like John Murtha who advocates an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, about whom the Republicans never speak without adding that she is from that crazy liberal place called San Francisco (simply naming the city is enough to make heartland conservatives shudder).
The difficulty for Democrats is that the United States has more moderates than liberals. The party is divided over what to do in Iraq and not nearly as liberal as some of its more outspoken members might suggest. The majority of Democrats believe, in their hearts if not publicly, that an immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be disastrous for the United States. However, when a moderate, pro-war Democratic leader like Joe Lieberman is seen bested in a primary by a vociferously anti-war upstart, the message sent to America at large is that the Democratic Party is dominated by those who wish to blindly withdraw, or as the Republicans put it – cut and run.
The danger for Democrats is that President Bush is absolutely correct when he describes the dire consequences of a premature American withdrawal. Say what one will about the logic of the initial American invasion (even Administration die-hards have difficulty explaining why we attacked one of the most secular states in the Middle East if our ‘enemy’ is ‘Islamo-fascism’), it does not take a card-carrying Republican to see the consequences of a power vacuum: possible civil war and opportunities for terrorists to re-organise in a state verging on anarchy. While the American military presence has failed to stabilise the situation, no one can honestly claim that the Iraqi military is ready to do the job itself.
President Bush brought his case to the American people once again on the fifth anniversary of the attacks of September 11. Interestingly, he made almost no effort to justify the initial invasion, contenting himself with simply asserting without further elaboration that Iraq represented a threat we could not ignore. Yet his justification for “staying the course” was significantly better founded and largely correct. He stated:
Prior to the March 2003 invasion, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that Iraq reminded him of signs on fragile vases in china shops reading, "if you break it -- you buy it." Well, the vase has broken. Republicans won’t admit they broke it, and Democrats won’t admit the shopkeeper needs to be paid. It would appear that as the November midterm elections approach, Americans at the ballot box may be forced to choose -- yet again -- between two wrong answers.
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Fred Noyes is a Research Associate at the Centre for International Political Studies (CiPS) and is based at the University of Virginia School of Law in the USA.
This article was published by the University of Pretoria Centre for International Political Studies (CIPS) and is reproduced here by permission.
Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000518.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.
Replies: 3 comments
I really dont remember democrats collectively saying there is an easy alternative. Has there been some party statement to that effect? I missed it. Rather the fact that there are many different democratic voices on the issues is being used to suggest: why change if they dont have a consensus solution. the fact that there are diverse voices shows that the democrats may be capable of arriving at a solution because at least they are a forum for a real debate from which ideas may come. The republicans are just a chorus of slogans and largely a lock step support the party leader approach. there is no hope in that direction.
Posted by john henry @ 09/29/2006 10:01 PM CST
Our everyday lifestyle, our security, our whole existance really seems to be no more than a simple exersise to be debated in the halls of the US senate.
Posted by shr @ 10/02/2006 10:55 AM CST
Interesting comment shr
I saw Tariq Ali speak before the war and his opinion at that time was that the US would not allow free elections in Iraq precisely because of the danger of a Shi'ite theocratic state emerging.
In the particular he was of course wrong (although the US were clearly reluctant to schedule elections and had to be prodded by Sistani) but in the longer term I wonder if the US will stick with the allies they have presently selected.
Surprise, the US sees the rest of the world only in terms of its implications for the US....
Posted by Spike @ 11/13/2006 06:16 PM CST
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