President Bush's speech has jolted the the NY Times editors into contact with reality:
...Another letter came from an opponent of the invasion who urged the American left to "get over its anger over President Bush's catastrophic blunder" and start trying to figure out how to win the conflict that exists.
No one wants a disaster in Iraq, and Mr. Bush's critics can put aside, at least temporarily, their anger at the administration for its hubris, its terrible planning and its inept conduct of the war in return for a frank discussion of where to go from here. The president, who is going to be in office for another three and a half years, cannot continue to obsess about self-justification and the need to color Iraq with the memory of 9/11. The nation does not want it and cannot afford it.
The notion that we should focus on what to do next may seem like common sense, but this is real breakthrough stuff. Paul Krugman last week and Nancy Pelosi last night were a lot more interested in discussing the events of 2002 than the events of 2005. And only last week, Times editors were insistent that their opinions be treated as "facts".
Richard Stevenson of the Times covers the speech, and duly notes that some of Bush's critics are infuriated by the conflation of Saddam and Al Qaeda. And we keep saying, this is not a war on Osama, it is a war on terror. Saddam's links to terrorist organizations were well documented, and Saddam's regime was a source of instability - both the unpopular sanctions and the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia motivated terrorist groups including Al Qaeda.
Will the Democrats be able to continue looking forward, and actually contribute to a debate about what to do next? I wonder if they can avoid the temptation of staring in the rear view mirror.
Talking about the past lets them unite around the message that Bush was a lying, corrupt fool. Fine, but as the Times grimly notes, he is our recently re-elected fool, and will be here for a while (but keep hope alive!)
Talking about the future will force Democrats to deal with the same ongoing split in their party that crippled Kerry's candidacy - is this a party committed to seeing Iraq through to a successful resolution, or is it the party of cut and run?
Sixty percent of House Democrats supported the Woolsey Amendment, a "sense of the Congress" effort calling for the President to "develop a plan as soon as practicable after the date of the enactment of this Act to provide for the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq". Nancy Pelosi opposed it; Hillary Clinton presumably would have opposed it as well, if it had been offered in the Senate. I am afraid to guess what John Kerry would have said.
Meanwhile, the recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that Americans are not fixated on grumbling about the past - despite diminished confidence in both President Bush and Administration pronouncements about progress in Iraq, a "solid majority" understands that we need to stay and finish this.
UPDATE: Good job by Pejman, or see this Downing Street memo for Straw's take on the Iraq/9-11 link. John Cole is helpful, and roots out some Reps who are not. Jeff Goldstein's future is in television news.
MORE: We can scarcely expect the NY Times editors to re-read Ken Pollack's "The Threatening Storm", but we will excerpt this from Josh Marshall's review:
If deterrence is unlikely to work against Saddam, what about the alternative policy that many critics of regime change advocate: containment? After all, containment has kept Saddam from any major mischief for a decade. Couldn't we just run out the clock and wait for the guy to die? The answer, Pollack argues--again persuasively--is no. To begin with, no American administration ever chose the containment policy. Its pillars--economic sanctions, inspections, no-fly zones and the rest--were hastily assembled in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War with the assumption that Saddam's regime could not last long and would in any case abide by U.N. disarmament resolutions. When it became clear that neither assumption was true, bureaucrats and mid-level political appointees--first under Bush senior and then under Clinton--began cob-bling these pieces together into a policy that would keep Iraq on ice until something better came along. Only nothing ever did. And though containment did keep Saddam in the proverbial box for many years, over time it became a running wound, one that Saddam could tolerate far better than we.
Economic sanctions, the noose around Saddam's throat, have been getting looser for years--in part due to progressive adjustments by the United Nations, in part to the increasingly open flouting of the sanctions by Iraq's neighbors. Every year the burden of sanctions weighs lighter on Saddam--the regime gets to sell more oil for humanitarian and other non-military purposes. As the flow of revenue rises, more can be skimmed off for military objectives. And every year the diplomatic capital we must expend to keep the sanctions in place grows. The Muslim world blames us for the civilian deaths, the images of dying babies--even if these tragedies are mainly due to Saddam's manipulation of sanctions rather than the sanctions themselves. Similarly, we pay a heavy price for the garrisons that we maintain in the region to keep Iraq contained. One needn't be an Osama bin Laden appeaser to recognize that the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia has been a major rallying cry for al Qaeda recruitment. All told, if Saddam's in a box, we're in there with him. Yes, war against Iraq would be violent, destructive, and destabilizing. What supporters of containment often ignore is that their policy has quite similar results--just spread out over time. And for all its geopolitical costs, Pollack argues, containment still probably won't keep Saddam from eventually obtaining nuclear warheads. Which of course brings us back to unworkable deterrence.
And was this argument an utter mystery at the time? Well, here is how the Presidential candidate the Times will endorse in 2008 summarized one hawkish view in October 2002 (before rejecting it):
Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now, with any allies we can muster, in the belief that one more round of weapons inspections would not produce the required disarmament, and that deposing Saddam would be a positive good for the Iraqi people and would create the possibility of a secular democratic state in the Middle East, one which could perhaps move the entire region toward democratic reform.
The word was out.