Small and Smaller

Josh Marshall:

We are bigger than Iraq.

By that I do not mean we, as America, are bigger or better than Iraq as a country. I mean that that sum of our national existence is not bound up in what happens there. The country will go on. Whatever happens, we’ll recover from it. And whatever might happen, there are things that matter much more to this country’s future — like whether we have a functioning military any more, whether our economy is wrecked, whether this country tears itself apart over this catastrophe. But we’ll go on and look back at this and judge what happened.

Not so for the president. For him, this is it. He’s not bigger than this. His entire legacy as president is bound up in Iraq. Which is another way of saying that his legacy is pretty clearly an irrecoverable shambles. That is why, as the folly of the enterprise becomes more clear, he must continually puff it up into more and more melodramatic and world-historical dimensions. A century long ideological struggle and the like. For the president a one in a thousand shot at some better outcome is well worth it, no matter what the cost. Because at least that’s a one in a thousand shot at not ending his presidency with the crushing verdict history now has in store. It’s also worth just letting things keep on going as they are forever because, like Micawber, something better might turn up. Going double or nothing by expanding the war into Iran might be worth it too for the same reason. For him, how can it get worse?

And when you boil all this down what it comes down to is that the president now has very different interests than the country he purports to lead.

Ah, perspective. It’s a beautiful thing.

Josh links to a pretty good Washington Post column by Jim Hoagland, titled “Bush’s Vietnam Blunder.” Among other things, Hoagland thinks the “Vietnam” speech was a political blunder. Maybe; whether the speech makes Bush and his war more or less unpopular than they already were remains to be seen. But here is the critical point:

Some military commanders, CIA agents in Iraq, Republican members of Congress, State Department diplomats and others now make their highest priority the protection of their own reputations, careers and institutions — the three blend seamlessly into a single overriding ambition in Washington — for the post-Bush era, which thus draws closer, in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The need to protect the White House, the Pentagon and both major political parties from greater Iraq fallout explains much of the blame being dumped on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at this late date — even though his deficiencies and close links to Iran and Syria were clearly visible when the administration helped install him in the job in 2006. As he has been throughout the Iraq experience, Bush is condemned to play the cards he dealt himself.

Our troops are in Iraq not to protect America, but to protect political careers.

And it’s not just Republicans, of course. Democrats are still so afraid of being labeled “soft” on communism crime terrorism that their own positions on the war are nuanced to death. Frankly, I’ve given up trying to understand precisely where some Democrats stand on the war; all over the place, it seems.

E.J. Dionne writes,

The surest sign of how bad our choices in Iraq have become is the eagerness of both of our political parties to blame the entire mess on the man American officials helped install in his job. After all, it was taken as an American victory back in April 2006 when Maliki replaced Ibrahim al-Jafari, who faced many of the same criticisms as prime minister that Maliki does today.

Now, Maliki is the problem. Among Democrats, both Sens. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton have called for replacing him with “a less divisive and more unifying figure,” as Clinton put it. …

… It’s no accident that American politicians find themselves entangled in Iraqi politics. The president’s troop surge was designed not to achieve some decisive military result but to bring about a political result — to give Iraqis “breathing room” to settle their sectarian differences.

I think the real reason for the surge was to kneecap the Iraq Study Group recommendations that would have taken control of the war away from Bush, but let’s go on …

That’s why both sides in the war debate are talking past each other. Supporters of the administration point to signs of military success and insist that we should keep at it. The administration’s opponents don’t deny some military gains — at considerable cost in American lives. But they argue that the continuing political disarray in Iraq shows that the surge has failed to achieve its primary objective and that we should begin to disentangle our troops from a civil war.

The debate as it’s currently configured puts a much higher short-term political burden on congressional Democrats than on Republicans. The president has the easier political objective: He needs only to block congressional action that would force him to alter his policy. As long as most Republicans stick with him, he wins.

He wins, notice. Not America; just Bush.

Democrats, on the other hand, are in a classic damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t situation.

So what else is new?

Congress, which has the constitutional authority to end the war, dithers around with halfway measures designed to encourage, but not force, the President to change his policy. Of course, this is a bit like politely asking a fox to please leave the chickens alone.

There’s more going on beneath the surface than merely scapegoating Maliki, as Glenn Greenwald explains today (must read). Politicians in Washington of both parties seem to have forgotten that We, the People, are still here.

At moments like these someone is bound to start squawking about third parties, which is another road to failure. We’re trapped into a two-party system by the way we hold elections. I still see no alternative to reforming the Democrats, eliminating “Bush Dogs” in the primaries and otherwise sending a message to the Washington elites that they really do need to reckon with us. That will take a few election cycles, unfortunately. And the war goes on.

12 thoughts on “Small and Smaller

  1. The herd instinct among DC pols is quite an impressive natural phenomenon. All week it’s been possible to see characters on all sides come to the realization that they could leave aside all their past disagreements and agree to blame everything on Nguyen Cao Ky. Oh, I’m sorry, Nouri al- MALIki. Whatever.

    Democrats have figured out that blaming the local guy might ‘save enough face’ for the GOP to get the hell out, particularly if the narrative is al-Maliki’s failure, not the untenable office he was conned into taking. Those GOP who are not dead-enders are thinking about taking the way out, knowing they can always blame the Dems for losing the war later.

    The most important part of resolving a huge screwup in DC is figuring out a story that makes it possible for everyone to say “not MY fault.”

  2. …Nguyen Cao Ky. Oh, I’m sorry, Nouri al-MALIki.

    I’ve been having that same damn deja vu all week.

  3. “…knowing they can always blame the Dems for losing the war later.”
    Exactly. Just like they still blame the dirty f&#ing hippies for losing Vietnam.

  4. I worked for two years as Political Officer in the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia. A lot of reporters came through, some terrific like David Ignatius, some opinionated like Charles Krauthammer.

    Hoagland fits into a third category, a nasty drunk who rarely reported on anything having to do with what was going on in-country—the Ambassador colorfully said Hoagland alternated between being a fool and a liar, all laced with alcohol. And the Ambassador was a politically appointed Democrat!

  5. daveinboca — Hah! Hoagland must’ve had a moment of sobriety. Note the first two sentences of Josh Marshall’s post: “Perhaps there’s something wrong with me. But Jim Hoagland’s column in Friday’s Post seems remarkably lucid and well-reasoned.”

    In more than five years of blogging I believe I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve linked to one of his columns. They’re usually neither really bad nor really good, just sentences strung together that don’t say all that much.

  6. Give me a REAL PROGRESSIVE Democrat, and I will gladly vote for him/her. Hoewever, give me a politician who votes like a Repug but with a (D) behind his/her name, I WILL vote Green or any other progressive. I cannot in good conscience vote for a pseudo-Dem.

    If it walks like a duck…

  7. 3700+ American soldiers died for what…a neocon fantasy, an ego trip, a lie? Who knows? The only thing we can be sure of is that they will have died in vain. Heck of a job, Bush!

  8. I agree with Maha about third parties in general. However, I do believe that if a third party candidate were to get into this particular Presidential race, that candidate will take votes away from the Republican candidate; not the Democratic candidate. There are more disaffected Repubs than Democrats. Thus, I will not get overworked if a third party movement enters the picture.

  9. Bush is trying to salvage himself while Putin is evidently planning a post presidency career as a hottie. Oh well you could always tell Putin was a lot smarter than Bush.
    I keep trying to make jokes of it but my son is going back to Iraq for another tour- of at least a year- after trying on his body armour and helemt which weigh 55 lbs( no ammo no weapon no water nothing else) I am down to making jokes about how it better stop the bullets since he’ll have to run in slow motion in 120 degree heat.
    Hope you save face Bush because that is all this mess could possibly accomplish now.

  10. Keep your eye on the ball, folks. If Bush is pre-positioning Al Maliki to be the fall guy for the failure of the ‘Unity’ (yeay, right) Gov’t, then do you think Bush is preparing to admit the situation is FUBAR and go home? You WISH!. No – it looks to me like the NEW strategy will be to go back and fix the flawd constitution and gov’t of Iraq. However Baghdad has not been annexed by the District of Columbia, and we have no more right to change their gov’t than we do to tell France to dismantle the Eifel Tower. But watch Bush try in Sept.

    Second, I agree with Barb about the futility of a third party to fix the problems of the Democratic party, though the Republicans may disintegrate in the purest sense of that word. dis-integrate, no longer able to maintain cohesion under the pressures of a militant religious faction vs a big-tent mentality which seeks to accomidate many views.

    But I digress. There is an option to the third party and that’s to switch to Independent. The purpose is to put the candidates and parties on notice that NOONE can count on my vote, short of delivering the goods. I am voting issues, not party lines and as an Independent, I will be the faction that decides a close one. In theory, it’s a strategy to force candidates of both parties to develop their listening skills, and listen to the renegade who is not married to either party.

  11. Doug Hughes,
    Well expressed. Put that way, I may think about doing the same.

    Nobody is talking about about the other 1,000 pound gorilla in the room, though: Iran.
    By Election Day, we likely will have bombed them – with consequences imaginable only by those of us who believe in rational thought. WWIII anyone?
    In other word’s, for Bush and Cheney, “It’s a go!”
    Hey, Nixon bombed Cambodia! Bombing Iran is the next “logical” step in Bush’s Vietnam analogy.

    This is what happen’s when the “Domino Theory” is replaced by “Texas hold ’em.”

    “We’ll meet again,
    Don’t know where,
    Dont know when…”

    “Waltzing Matilda,
    Waltzing Matilda…”

  12. Pingback: End of Silence - Freedom hating on the internets since 2002 » links for 2007-08-25

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