Monday, August 22, 2005

Policy and Posture

Yglesias says there are genuine policy differences about Iraq in the party and we should therefore welcome a genuine argument about that. Fair enough, to the extent that it's true. But, look there are two issues here, even though they tend to be confused.

The first issue is whether the Iraq war, and supporting it, was a good idea. We'll allow some wiggle room for hindsight conversions, as in "if I knew then what I know now..." but basically that question is still out there. War supporters don't want to come back to that issue, preferring to brush it under the table in favor of debating the "what we should do now" question. But, as a matter of political posture, the only way for the Democrats to be the "anti-Republicans" on the Iraq war is in fact to take the position that the war was a bad idea. I actually can't fathom why unity on this matter is so hard to achieve, other than the fact that the Democratic political industrial complex which supported the war can't admit error.

Then there is the genuine "what should we do now" policy issue, about which I acknowledge there can be legimitate differences of opinion. There are very few people who have a genuine extreme opinion, at least publicly. "Get out now" doesn't really mean "get out now" - impossible to do with 130,000 troops - it means "there's an emphasis on getting out fast" because of some combination of not wanting more troops to die and believing that getting out fast is actually a better way to achieve a secure and stable Iraq because our presence there is actually a large part of the problem. "Stay the course" doesn't mean "sit in Iraq until the end of time" (leaving off the table The Military Bases Which Must Not Be Named), it means "we shouldn't pull out too soon as our presence there is necessary for achieving stability in Iraq so we can't leave until we do."

The Democrats may not want to be the "Iraq was a bad idea" party. But, frankly, that's the only real coherent political posture available to them. And, while bloggers and pundits and everyone else can figure out where on the spectrum between "get out now" and "stay the course" they actually sit, it's largely a pointless policy debate. Given the complexity of the situation, the only real policy position is "put competent people in charge." We didn't manage to do that in '04, and I don't imagine that the "we should've gone to war but then not fuck it up" posture will work any better in '06 and '08. Given the rising anti-war sentiment in this country it will certainly do worse.

"Get out now" and "stay the course" are also postures. In fact, they're really more postures than policies. I'll admit to having some sympathy for the idea that the "stay the course" posture is the best politically, even though I think the "get out now" policy is best (recognizing that there really is no conflict between having one as policy as one as posture). I'm not sure of that. But, either way the only real way to be "not Republicans" on Iraq is to think the whole adventure was a bad idea.

Yglesias points out that Hackett has both a "bad idea" posture and a "stay the course" posture. Maybe this is a winning combination. But, it isn't really a serious policy discussion. I don't think there is one. The basic issue with Iraq is "get out as soon as possible" and the only thing we really disagree on is the meaning of "possible." As for political posture? Maybe Hackett has the right combination. Maybe he doesn't.