Tuesday, August 16, 2005

National Security Democrats

During the run-up to the Iraq war, and the 2004 US elections, a lot of non-Americans deceived themselves about the Democrats. About the Democrat leadership, not so much the membership and voters: the majority of the former were just as pro-war and just as dead wrong as the Republicans, only used a different language, wanted the war to be fought differently; and their support network/echochamber was less well known than the neocons'.

The confusion existed in America too, as evidenced by the fatally wrong popular notion that Kerry was an 'anti-war candidate'. First taken along with the "support your troops" slogan (of which most still couldn't cut loose), the Democratic base began to take heed of the so-called national security Democrats only recently: when the latter vehemently attempted to undercut fellow Democrats, and gave support to some Bush policies on key issues (the origin of their new "Vichy Democrats" curse). Even on the progressive left (and anti-war libertarian right), those not hindered by allegiance to the Democratic party, this network wasn't known in the detail the neocons were.

Now, in The Nation, Ari Berman supplies a much-needed analysis of the structure and workings of the national security Democrat network, from the politicians through advisers and think tanks down to pundits. Below, some choice quotes, with focus on the essence - for most details (persons, groups, actual events), read the article!

...Sixty-three percent want US troops brought home within the next year. Yet a recent National Journal "insiders poll" found that a similar margin of Democratic members of Congress reject setting any timetable. The possibility that America's military presence in Iraq may be doing more harm than good is considered beyond the pale of "sophisticated" debate.

Very much so, and in the population too: Berman doesn't quote other poll numbers, like the just 33% in the August 5-7 Gallup poll who really want to withdraw all troops (and that's record!), and both misinterprets and misquotes that "sixty-three percent": he added up the 12% who voluntarily brought up the "bring them home now" slogan, the 38% who want to stay less than a year, and the 13% who want to stay one to two years in the August 2-4 Newsweek poll. That is: the realisation that the US is doing more harm than good (from which immediate withdrawal logically follows) is probably just barely majority opinion even on the US Left (='liberal' pro-democrat and left-to-Democrats voters).

The continued high standing of the hawks has been made possible by their enablers in the strategic class -- the foreign policy advisers, think-tank specialists and pundits. Their presumed expertise gives the strategic class a unique license to speak for the party on national security issues... It's more than a little ironic that the people who got Iraq so wrong continue to tell the Democrats how to get it right.

Sounds familiar? The ersatz neocons are the more powerful the more wrong they are, too.

...At the bottom of the pyramid are the liberal hawks in the punditocracy, figures like New Republic editor Peter Beinart, Time writer Joe Klein and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. These pundits, along with purely partisan outfits... help to both set the agenda and frame the debate. The journalistic hawks churn out the agitprop that the more respectable think tanks turn into "serious" scholarship, some of which eventually becomes policy, or at least talking points, when adopted by the politicians.

The above quotes show that there is a feedback that is free of a real understanding of the issues, a groupthink if you like - or one of the allegedly nonexistent classes of US society showing its ugly face, if you like. Unfortunately, they are not evil, they live in ivory towers - and that may be worse, they may be closer to Tony Bliar's mentality.

...Central to the liberal hawks' mission is a challenge to other Democrats that they too must become "national security Democrats," to borrow a phrase coined by Holbrooke. To talk about national security a Democrat must be a national security Democrat... The liberal hawks caricature other Democrats just as Republicans long stereotyped them. The pundits magnify the perception that Democrats are soft on national security, and they influence how consultants view public opinion and develop the message for candidates... It matters little that people like Beinart have no national security experience -- as long as the hawks identify themselves as national security Democrats, they're free to play the game.

This is the really infuriating part. Not entirely unlike the neocons, here is a group arrogantly cocksure of its own expertise, importance and responsibility, but in fact they don't have a clue - neither about whom they want to attack abroad, nor about the consequences of their actions, nor about the weak footing of the evidence and arguments they based their opinion upon. (Friedman, Pollack: just LOL...) Enabled by a total lack of critical thinking. It was great that the US and not just US Left seized upon Suskind's "reality-based community" quote, but it's not earned when you don't realise that the national security Democrats aren't part of it - even if they themselves think they are.

...Even at their darkest hour, the strategic class found a way to profit from its errors, coalescing around a view that its members had been misled by the Bush Administration and that too little planning, too few troops and too much ideology were largely to blame for the chaos in Iraq. The hawks decided it was acceptable to criticize the execution of the war, but not the war itself...

As for a view of the future:

Pollack continues to thrive at Brookings and, despite never visiting the country, has a new book out about Iran. Shortly after the election, Beinart penned a 5,683-word essay calling on hawkish Democrats to repudiate "softs" like MoveOn.org and Michael Moore; the essay won Beinart -- already a fellow at Brookings -- a $650,000 book deal and high-profile visibility on the Washington ideas circuit. Subsequently a statement of leading policy apparatchiks on the PPI publication Blueprint challenged fellow Democrats to make fighting Islamic totalitarianism the central organizing principle of the party.... A number of leading specialists signed a letter by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century asking Congress to boost the defense budget and increase the size of the military by 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.

It would have been a real catastrophe would Europe, the European (Centre-)Left have given automatic support to these guys - or would do it in 2008, if they win. (Well, Europe with the future Merkel government in Germany and the present tossers aren't that far from a catastrophe either.)

...why does so much of the Democratic strategic class march in lockstep? There's no simple answer. The insularity of Washington, pressures of careerism, fear of appearing soft and the absence of institutional alternatives all contribute to a limiting of the debate.

...Those insiders who doubt the wisdom of a hawkish course often get the cold shoulder if they stray too far from the strategic line. After criticizing the rush to war, Ivo Daalder of Brookings became the foreign policy point man for Howard Dean's insurgent campaign... Today Daalder blames the antiwar movement for Dean's defeat and calls for more troops in Iraq.

Now this could also be the case of an apostate who wasn't fully committed to apostasy and fell back, but more examples of such mobbing follow. The conclusion:

...A few small progressive think tanks, helped by the dissident establishment, have tried to pry open badly needed institutional space for a bolder national security policy. A few courageous elected officials are attempting to drum up Congressional support for withdrawal. Thus far, the hawks have drowned them out. Unless and until the strategic class transforms or declines in stature, the Democrats beholden to them will be doomed to repeat their Iraq mistakes.

Note to readers: This is a reproduction of a diary entry of mine at European Tribune, the DailyKos-style community blog set off by a French reader of Billmon, but with stingier comments added. I'm presently more active there, but as I temper my tone there to have effect on a wider audience (and hope it will end up significantly to the left of its US model), I will keep up this blog too. (And promise more activity from the autumn.)


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