A Plea to Independents and Moderates
NOTE: This was run late yesterday. Due to some of the issues it raises, it’s being run today out of order. Newer posts are located BELOW this post — so please continue to scroll down after you read it.
I won’t pretend I’m something I’m not. I am a lifelong moderately liberal Democrat. And my “team” has always been the party with the donkey insignia. That said, I am making a plea to all those Independent voters out there who don’t know what to do on Tuesday. I won’t pretend to share all of your values; and you know that you don’t share all of the Republican Party’s values either. That’s why you are an Independent. You may lean one way or the other, or you may be a true balance-on-the-fulcrum swing voter. Both bases are excited, so Independents like you will decide this election. Either way, please hear me out about what I hope you decide to do on Tuesday.
First, consider the stakes here. Our country is at war. We are threatened by Islamist terrorists who loathe the Western way of life, and deeply resent our presence in the Arab and Muslim world. And while we quickly dispatched the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and established a teetering republic in that nation, the central front in the war on terror really is Iraq. Yes, I am rejecting the talking point that Iraq is “separate” from the War on Terror. It is vitally connected to it.
Considering that point, we must look at the Iraq war soberly, both in terms of its effect on the Iraqi people and on the global struggle against jihadism. And on that front, the verdict is quite simple: we have failed in Iraq. We went into that country with hardly a plan for the occupation, not nearly enough troops to secure the nation, and with civilian leaders utterly incompetent to get the task done. The recent Saddam sentencing is a welcome one for all justice-loving people. But it only underscores what could have been. Instead of a unified nation celebrating its movement beyond its brutal past, Iraq is now reliving that very violent past, only with new actors and new agendas.
More important, our failure in Iraq has gravely wounded our ability to fight the war on terror. Our army is not “broken,” but it is severely compromised. The war has cost more money than anybody predicted in 2003. And the sectarian bloodshed has only encouraged the radicalization of the Muslim world. Invading Iraq was a great risk; success would have radically altered the course of democracy, reform and modernization in the Muslim world. Unnfortuantely, failure there has produced the opposite. Reformers in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are derided: the dictators ask, should we have our own little Iraq? If we take the Bush Doctrine of democratization seriously as the key to fighting terrorism, we can only look at the “democracy” of Iraq as a mockery of the concept. Iraq is in civil war; a brutal sectarian civil war with no end in sight. Just as important, it is a failed state, of the sort that encouraged the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
And let’s not fool ourselves about prospects for success at this point. Even sincere, hawkish pundits like Ralph Peters admit that we aren’t just “losing” in Iraq. We’ve lost in Iraq. Admitting as much is the first step to salving our national reputation and honor, and redirecting our national resources in the fight against terrorism. Neither I nor anybody has a great plan for victory in Iraq at this point. I can point to dozens of ideas out there, but none are sure to produce a positive outcome. That’s why this crisis is so difficult.
Now, what does this have to do with the election? Simple. Iraq is the fundamental issue of our time. Failure to evict the GOP Congress will do one thing: it will embolden George W. Bush to continue as before. Bush and Cheney have been up front about their intentions. They will not change course – not strategy, not personnel, not tactics, not diplomatic posture – unless they are forced to. They believe elections are “accountability moments,” and if the Republicans return to a majority, they will interpret it as if the public approves of the course. And this is where you come in.
I know that many Independents have reservations about the Democratic Party. There are many reasons for this, having to do with domestic or foreign policy, or even particular Democratic politicians. And I’ll be honest and admit that I know that some people within the Democratic Party do not get how deep the implications of our failure in Iraq are for the war on terror. But many Republicans don’t get that either, though they rhetorically claim that “if” we fail, it will be catastrophic. Indeed, they are in denial about how grave our situation is in Iraq; Democrats are not. And like Bob McNamara and George McClelland and various assorted other military and political leaders in wars past, the Republicans will continue to fail as before unless forced to change. Electing a Democratic Congress will not radically change our policy on the War on Terror; ironically, the Republicans are overplaying the influence of a Democratic victory in Iraq. Democrats are not going to pull the purse strings on the war. But they will hold the Administration accountable by asking the tough questions that this Congress has refused to do.
Andrew Sullivan said it best: this is an intervention, not an election. And while partisans on both sides will be coming out in droves for their own reasons, Independents hold the balance of power. This election is not going to produce a new Commander-in-Chief. This election will not completely reverse current war on terror strategy. But if it leads to a Democratic Congress, it will force President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to recognize that there are consequences to their incompetence in handling the war in Iraq, and in the war on terror generally. The stakes are too high to sit this one out. And the risks of giving Bush another “mandate” are too high in this tense hour. Repudiate this Administration’s gross mismanagement of the Iraq war. Vote for the Democrat in your House or Senate race.