Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Michael O'Hanlon's Suicide Hotline

The Democrats’ mantra of defeat in Iraq, their refusal to acknowledge the reality wrought by the surge, and their continued attempt to surrender legislatively has senior Brookings Institution analyst Michael O’Hanlon trying to lead his Democrats back from the brink of Copperhead suicide. O’Hanlon long ago saw the changing reality in Iraq and understood why victory there was of great importance. Now he is trying to find some way for his Democrats to extricate themselves from their complete embrace of defeat. He suggests that the Dems adopt what seems more than a bit shameless historical revisionism.

Writing in the USA Today, O’Hanlon muses

Rarely in U.S. history has a political party diagnosed a major failure in the country's approach to a crucial issue of the day, led a national referendum on the failing policy, forced a change in that policy that led to major substantive benefits for the nation — and then categorically refused to take any credit whatsoever for doing so.

O’Hanlon posits the tenuous position that it was only the Democratic takeover of Congress that led Bush to adopt the surge strategy. He suggests the Democrats rely on his suggested narrative to now claim credit for the success in Iraq. Shameless? - you bet. Welcome? - very much so if they would now, as he also suggests, begin playing an affirmative role in making Iraq a success rather than their current course of "rescuing defeat from the jaws of victory" by attempting "to mandate an end" to operations in Iraq.

We now have a realistic chance, not of victory, but of what my fellow Brookings scholar Ken Pollack and I call sustainable stability. Violence rates have dropped by half to two-thirds in the course of 2007, the lowest level in years. Iraq is still very unstable, but it has a chance.

Despite this progress, many Democrats are inclined to provide Bush the roughly $12 billion a month he requests for Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 only if the money is devoted narrowly to counterterrorism and bringing home U.S. troops. This is a mistake.

On strategic grounds, it appears that we now have an opportunity to salvage something significant in Iraq. Given sectarian tensions and brittle Iraqi institutions, this almost surely requires us to execute a gradual drawdown of U.S. forces there rather than an abrupt departure. In political terms, it would be rescuing defeat from the jaws of victory to mandate an end to an operation, however unpopular, just when it is showing its first signs of progress.

Democrats should change course. Rather than demand an end to the operation no matter what, they should continue to keep up the pressure for positive results in Iraq. They can retain their anti-war stance, emphasizing that their default position is that U.S. troops should soon come home absent continued major progress. . . .

Read the article here. O’Hanlon makes a series of recommendations for attaching strings to funding that would allow for the Democrats to maintain an anti-war patina while playing a positive role in making Iraq a success. It’s a reasonable argument and one certainly in the best interests of America's national security and foreign policy. But it is one with little, if any, chance of being implemented.

While O’Hanlon has grasped the reality of Iraq, he has not grasped the reality that he is fundamentally different from his neo-liberal compatriots. O’Hanlon is an anachronism – a classical liberal. His Democratic compatriots are almost entirely neo-liberals who have ejected classical liberalism’s defining quality – intellectual honesty - in favor of the calculus of partisan power. And they long seen defining Iraq as an abject failure a the key to that calculus. With intellectual honesty no longer at issue, facts, reality, and indeed, any interest beyond attainment of partisan power are of no importance.

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