This Is (Not) What Democracy Looks Like

Jonathan Rauch writes a truly bizarre column on the situation in Iraq. There is much to criticize, not least the “both sides are too extreme and share blame” conceit, but I’ll just note two or three of the strangest paragraphs.

what’s the Democrats’ hurry to end the surge? U.S. combat fatalities are tragic, but withdrawing in the midst of an escalating war could bring even more of them.

That might theoretically be true. So why bother to support it with any facts? Here’s another thought: maybe maintaining a permanent US presence, with no apparent effect on political reconciliation, in a country with an ongoing civil war will lead to more US casualties over the long term.

Nor is it anything like obvious that, as Obama told AP, America’s presence is making Iraq more dangerous for Iraqis by attracting terrorists and encouraging irresponsible politics. As Bush told the VFW, those who said that the people of Vietnam and (especially) Cambodia would be better off under Communism were wrong.

No one is saying that Iraq will turn into Switzerland if only the US withdraws. We are in a situation with no good options and no fairy tale ending.

If you advance the downside in Iraqi security to a US withdrawal as a reason to stay, you must argue that staying is going to prevent or ameliorate a civil war (hint: we’re there now, and there’s a civil war), and you must discuss what the likely costs of staying are, in blood and treasure. Rauch, of course, does neither.

What’s more, his “response” to Obama makes no sense. Obama was speaking about terrorism. And the fact is that the terrorist organization of global reach that hit us on 9/11, al Qaeda, is only in Iraq because of the chaos we have unleashed there, and can only stay there as long as we stay there, because it is a small, deeply unpopular, foreign presence in Iraq.

Rauch continues:

Here is something that Democrats might want to think about before rushing to shut down the surge: If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory.

Rauch is correct that the GOP will tell any lie, distort any position, and smear any opponent in order to gain an electoral advantage by appealing to nationalist sentiment. However, I do not take that as a reason to avoid discussing likely outcomes in Iraq, nor as a reason to urge Democrats to give a blank check for a never-ending war. In fact, I submit, it is a reason to criticize the GOP. Rauch comes across somewhat like a mafiosi making an offer the Democrats can’t refuse— “real nice political party you got there. It’d be a real shame if I had to be a conduit for people slandering you as traitors.”

[[ADDED: Note that Rauch mentions “possible” victory.   How likely is it?  How much will it cost?  How long will it take?  Will it require the presence of roughly 100,000 American troops for 20 years, yet still be a “long-shot gamble”? Rauch’s answer, in effect, is “who the hell cares. ” It’s still “possible,” so keep on spending our grandchildren’s money and our children’s lives on the possibility of winning the lottery.  This is very typical of the rhetoric-over-reality argumentation of war supporters and their apologists.]]

The article comes to a bizarre and undemocratic conclusion:

[A]nger does not justify impatience. If Petraeus says he needs more time, he should get it.


If Petraeus says he needs more time, he must provide specific reasons as to why he needs more time, how much time he is talking about, how much it will cost, what “success” would look like, and what our chances of attaining it might be.

Then the political leadership of the US should make its decision drawing on, but not abdicating its responsibilities to, the word of Gen. Petraeus.

Rauch, like many war supporters since long before the war began, simply does not want to engage in a discussion about specific costs and benefits.

He urges Democrats to vote to appropriate money to send other people’s children to fight and die in a war not because of a cold, hard look at the benefits that might result to the US, but because politicians might tell lies about them if they don’t.


PS— When I started posting under this name, I often stressed that I had initially supported the invasion of Iraq. I don’t do that as often now, but it’s still true. Now that I’m blogging regularly, I will do a post about why I did support the war, and has happened since.


One Response to “This Is (Not) What Democracy Looks Like”

  1. The War on Common Sense « The Elvisberg Report Says:

    […] trying to make the media declare that resistance is futile, and to make Democrats fear the developing dolschetosse narrative (the “Weimar moment,” as George Will put […]

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