Friday, August 26, 2005

The discussion over Iraq has got a lot more complicated lately.

From mid-2003 to what seems like last week, it was pretty clear-cut. Either you agreed with the administration about the war or you didn't. On the anti-war side, followers of the Pottery Barn Doctrine (You break it, you buy it), the Pilate Doctrine (The least bad option is to wash our hands of it) and the Pinocchio Doctrine* (Of course invasion and occupation should be the first resort in a humanitarian effort, never mind the WMD fear-mongering, and the Iraqi body count is not growing!) could all get along just fine as long as they agreed that the war was being fundementally mismanaged at the top. Even in the presidential race, Kerry could afford to be very vague about what he would do, instead dwelling on what Bush had done wrong, and he still got the support of these groups.**

That worked because in practical terms, at that time, the differences didn't matter. The most important reason was simply that all of those groups were locked out of the government and they all agreed on the first step towards their goals - get back in the government. We could and would advance any argument and make most comprimises that we felt would get us to that first step. But now, not so much. The bad news from Iraq has got too big and too hard for the administration to explain as inevitable and/or acceptable, the anti-this-war movement has acquired spokespeople who are harder and harder to demonize, like grieving mothers of soldiers and Vietnam veteran Republican senators, and the public mood is definitively against Bush and the war he worked so hard to make his own.

So instead of discussing "Is the war good?" people are now discussing "How can we keep it from becoming more bad?" Which is, duh, a much more difficult question. And suddenly liberals who have been able to blame, second-guess and theorize without any real consequences will have to deal with whether or not their ideas are actually, you know, good.

Personally, I followed the Pottery Barn Doctrine until Abu Ghraib made the news, and ever since then I've suspected that we were wasting time, lives and a whole lot more trying to fix something that was simply unfixable. (Which boils down to the Pilate Doctrine.) It's like a saying I'm fond of about driving through Vermont: "You can't get there from here," "there" being an Iraq about as democratic and liberal as Turkey. But if President Feingold gets elected in 2008 and he openly and honestly follows the Pilate Doctrine, then thousands of Iraqis will die, he, Feingold, will personally get blamed for every single one, and the Democrats won't recover from the false "wimpy" reputation in my lifetime if ever. If he follows the Pottery Barn Doctrine, then thousands of both Iraqis and Americans will die (and it's anyone's best guess if the numbers will be higher this way than the other way) and the wimpy reputation just might be changed for an incompetent one.

If we're lucky, then Ezra Klein's strategy is right. If we're very lucky, then it won't be overtaken by events. If we're insanely, winning-the-lottery type lucky, leading Democratic politicians will follow it.

* I mean the liberal hawks who supported the war because it would be getting rid of Saddam. I realize dishonesty/hypocrisy is not a bigger problem for them than for anyone else in politics and this "Pinocchio Doctrine" description only applies literally to about three people. I was just stretching things to fit the alliteration.

** Too bad that wasn't enough.

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