Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Re: Who's to blame for Iraq

This is my belated response to Joe's post lamenting the fact that the Senate Democrats did not do more to derail or at least modify the Iraq war resolution in October 2002. His points (to recap) are: that the war resolution was the most important item that the Senate faced in the 2001-02 session because it involved potential loss of life, the Democrats (by and large) opposed the war in their hearts, but they played politics in going along with the resolution when they (with a 51-49 majority) could potentially have blocked or amended it.

My response is that, as a preliminary matter, the 51-49 majority is illusory. Several of the 51 genuinely supported the war and wanted the open-ended resolution as a means to begin a unilateral, preemptive conflict. These people would have voted down any amendment just as they would have prevented the resolution itself from being voted down. Therefore, the choice for the rest of the Democrats was, as it usually is these days: filibuster, register symbolic opposition, or go along.

At the time, the following considerations existed: 1) The Bush propaganda machine (largely uncountered by the left) had pushed war support to approximately 70-30 (as Barry points out, the 70 includes a significant chunk who only supported the war if the U.N. were involved, but the available polling failed to bring that out); 2) Bush had sworn to the Senators that he intended to get the U.N.'s support for any action and that open-ended resolution was a bargaining chip to strengthen his hand in international negotiations; 3) the midterm election was less than a month away; and 4) Bush and the Republicans were incredibly effective in using said propaganda machine to smear opponents as unpatriotic. (See Ex-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who got hit with ads comparing him to Saddam AND Osama for the unforgivable sin of insisting that bureaucrats in the newly formed Department of Homeland Security receive the same benefits as other civil servants.)

Given the three points, many Democrats made the strategic decision to pick option #3 in the hopes of taking the Iraq issue off the table and focusing the election on domestic issues. In hindsight, that was undeniably a crappy strategic decision. To label it a moral failing, though, is a bit unfair. They got taken in by Bush. While us lefties knew what Bush's promises are worth, he nonetheless is a very good liar. After all, he even got one of us to vote for him. (I'm not pointing fingers or naming names, but his anagram is N. Rabble Irony.)
The resolution, at that time, was a theoretical exercise. There were no protests or indications that it would lead to anything other than a U.N. resolution.

As to the strategy point, the Dems probably should have figured that Bush was going to slam them no matter what they did, so they might as well have staked out their own position and rallied the antiwar folks. The ideal, in retrospect, would have been to a) do the polling to find out that the swing group are the people who support the resolution but only with U.N. cooperation, and b) pitch the action to those folks. In other words, fight hard for an amendment requiring U.N. cooperation. That's the easy one. Assuming such an amendment is defeated, however, I'm not sure what the strategic course would be.

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