Advice for the Democrats, from Clive Crook (love that name!) of the Financial Times:
Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but . . .” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans…. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.
I’ve referred before to the growing—if somewhat begrudging—acknowledgment in the MSM that things are going significantly better lately in Iraq, and the fact that, if trends in that country continue in an upbeat direction, the Democrats may need to change course in their attitude towards our efforts there. But the advice in the Crook article demonstrates one of the flaws in that approach, and that is this: even if the Democrats ultimately take his advice, will they be seen as acting on principle, or merely as adopting a strategic new pose designed to further politics as usual—in other words, their own re-elections in 2008?
Perhaps it’s wrong (and it certainly is naive) to expect politicians of either party to consistently act out of sincerity, principle, statesmanship, and to further the good of the country. It may be like asking a tiger to change its stripes. It’s certainly not wrong to want them to, however.
The danger for the Democrats right now is that they may already have tipped their hand by acts such as pronouncing the surge a failure before it had even begun, and continuing with efforts to cut off funding way past the time when it appeared that results were encouraging. The nearly-inescapable conclusion is that—at least, ever since the surge—they’ve been playing self-serving and partisan politics with the military and the war effort, despite all those “ah, but I support the troops” protests on their part. Any reversal at too late a date might likewise seem self-serving, partisan, and political.
There is evidence that the public is beginning to think the war effort is going better. Although it’s still not a majority opinion, the trend is towards more positive opinions about the Iraq effort—which means, against the Democrats. They must be getting a bit worried:
Though the successes have been underreported, a Pew Research Poll found that 44 percent of Americans think the war is going “very” or “fairly” well, while a CBS poll found the number of Democrats thinking the war was going “very badly” had fallen 12 points (to 45 percent) over three months.
Making policy by poll, and pandering to whatever may be the more popular position at the time, is often called “democracy” by supporters, and “pandering” and “waffling” by critics. Democrats are especially susceptible to these latter criticisms. Just think of Bill Clinton, or those Republican ads in 2004 featuring John Kerry windsurfing.
Most people want a president and other elected officials to be responsive to public opinion, but also to have their own well-founded positions based on important philosophical principles they hold dear, and to have the backbone to stick with them. Of course, the latter can be taken to an extreme—that’s what’s behind the cries of “too stubborn, too inflexible” leveled at Bush.
The bottom line is that people want politicians to take stances based on integrity, which requires being flexible enough to change position when facts dictate such a fine-tuning—or even a reversal—of position. But those facts should not be based simply on what the MSM suggests, or what is merely popular (we have a representative government rather than a pure democracy, after all)—or, especially what is expedient in terms of their own electability.
Regrading Iraq, Bush is vulnerable to charges of stubbornness and rigidity for not responding earlier to the decline of the situation there. Many observers suggest it would have been better policy to have appointed General Petraeus sooner (see this post of mine on the subject, as well as some of the comments there suggesting that the policy might not have been successful, however, had it been adopted any earlier). But even among Bush’s enemies, few accuse him of having no spine, or of lacking the ability to buck public opinion.
Many of the Democrats are vulnerable to just these charges, especially those who supported the war in the first place but changed their minds afterwards and who continue in attempts to block funds for it, even post-surge. It is probably already too late for them to change their minds once again in favor of it and to still be considered principled (unlike, for example, Brian Baird, who established his bona fides in the principled mind-changing department some time ago).
Crook writes that if Democrats continue to oppose the Iraq effort at this point it would be the wrong posture for them to adopt. The problem for many Democrats lies in the fact that any change in attitude at this point will probably be seen as just that: a pose.