You know it's a bad day when Robert Novak is the voice of reason on the Washington Post op-ed page. Apropos of yesterday's discussion of the neocon vision of bringing civilization to the savages, the Post has given Joe Lieberman real estate to say things like
If such an atrocity had been perpetrated in the United States, Europe or Israel, our response would surely have been anger at the fanatics responsible and resolve not to surrender to their barbarism.
Unfortunately, because this slaughter took place in Baghdad, the carnage was seized upon as the latest talking point by advocates of withdrawal here in Washington. Rather than condemning the attacks and the terrorists who committed them, critics trumpeted them as proof that Gen. David Petraeus's security strategy has failed and that the war is "lost."
Can't you see how evil they are?! After all, that's the most important thing for Joe: making sure we condemn barbarism. And after the condemnation, we must destroy the enemy.
This reaction is dangerously wrong. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of both the reality in Iraq and the nature of the enemy we are fighting there.
What is needed in Iraq policy is not overheated rhetoric but a sober assessment of the progress we have made and the challenges we still face.
And once again, reality itself is up for grabs in American political discourse. In Joe's universe, the reality in Iraq is that we are fighting the very personification of evil. They will never back down so we have no choice but to destroy them. That is how we prevail. And yet we must avoid "overheated rhetoric" when discussing the progress we've made. And who is this enemy?
The suicide bombings we see now in Iraq are an attempt to reverse these gains: a deliberate, calculated counteroffensive led foremost by al-Qaeda, the same network of Islamist extremists that perpetrated catastrophic attacks in Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and, yes, New York and Washington.
How is this different from the repeated assertion in the leadup to this war that al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in cahoots? Or to paraphrase Jon Stewart from a few nights ago,
Basically, first-term president Bush, you invaded to remove the threat of Saddam Hussein. And you, current president Bush, are there to battle the threat created by the lack of Saddam Hussein.
Aren't we fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here? Joe?
Indeed, to the extent that last week's bloodshed clarified anything, it is that the battle of Baghdad is increasingly a battle against al-Qaeda. Whether we like it or not, al-Qaeda views the Iraqi capital as a central front of its war against us.
Oh I see. al-Qaeda views Iraq as the central front of its war against us. And we view Iraq as the central front in the War on Terror. Kindred spirits. Or as I wrote
on the eve of the invasion
There are radicals in our government and in the Middle East that both have different visions of what the world should look like, and are prepared to fight to see it come true. Unfortunately, everyone else is stuck in the middle.
Back to Joe:
Al-Qaeda's strategy for victory in Iraq is clear. It is trying to kill as many innocent people as possible in the hope of reigniting Shiite sectarian violence and terrorizing the Sunnis into submission.
In other words, just as Petraeus and his troops are working to empower and unite Iraqi moderates by establishing basic security, al-Qaeda is trying to divide and conquer with spectacular acts of butchery.
Lieberman's obsession with al-Qaeda blinds him to the true sources of violence in Iraq. First of all, there wasn't an al-Qaeda in Iraq until we invaded. And even then it was more of a co-option of the al-Qaeda "brand name" in order to gain recruits. al-Qaeda in Iraq is really a bit player, and Joe should know better. But the reality of what's happening in Iraq and who is responsible for the violence there would destroy Lieberman's sloppily constructed fantasy that we are fighting against a unified and powerful foe who relies on acts of terror to induce us to leave Iraq. That's how he can claim there is only one choice in Iraq. That's how John McCain can say there is no plan B. They are living in a fantasy world.
When politicians here declare that Iraq is "lost" in reaction to al-Qaeda's terrorist attacks and demand timetables for withdrawal, they are doing exactly what al-Qaeda hopes they will do, although I know that is not their intent.
Even as the American political center falters, the Iraqi political center is holding.
How does Lieberman know so much about al-Qaeda's intent? Or rather, why does he understand it so little? He is alone among Democrats on this issue, unable to realize that the "center" of American politics is not himself: it is rather the stated goals of his former party. The Democrats are the center, and he is far outside the mainstream on this issue. Why the Post would give credibility to Lieberman on this issue is beyond my understanding.
The challenge before us, then, is whether we respond to al-Qaeda's barbarism by running away, as it hopes we do -- abandoning the future of Iraq, the Middle East and ultimately our own security to the very people responsible for last week's atrocities -- or whether we stand and fight.
To me, there is only one choice that protects America's security -- and that is to stand, and fight, and win.
Try telling that to US soldiers in Iraq. They don't see this as good guys vs. the bad guys, they see it for what it is: pointless involvement in another country's civil war. Far be it for me to put words in the mouths of "the troops," since no such generalization can be made, but isn't it obvious that soldiers on their third or fourth tour have to be apprehensive of the total lack of clear objectives in Iraq? It is obvious to everyone but Lieberman that Bush is in way over his head and the only reason he wants to stay in Iraq is to protect his ego. And the irresponsibility and immorality of Bush's arrogant stubbornness has manifested itself in the American people as support for the Democratic position of withdrawl from Iraq. But like Bush, Lieberman has staked his entire political life on this one issue and will not let go. Thank you, Republican voters of Connecticut, for giving us six more years of this infantile and selfish man. Thank you, Washington Post, for giving him a platform from which to insult the rest of us. Thank you very, very much.
Then there's David Broder, who culminates a long slide into irrelevancy with today's column. He's off his rocker. I don't think there is any doubt about that anymore. Witness the opening paragraphs of Washington DC's "Dean" of journalism:
Here's a Washington political riddle where you fill in the blanks: As Alberto Gonzales is to the Republicans, Blank Blank is to the Democrats -- a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance.
If you answered " Harry Reid," give yourself an A. And join the long list of senators of both parties who are ready for these two springtime exhibitions of ineptitude to end.
There is indeed a long list of senators from both parties who are on record saying Gonzales needs to go. There is even talk of a potential vote of no confidence. There is no such thing for Harry Reid. Broder literally made it up. Let's look at the rest of his argument, if you can call it that.
Everyone got that? This war is lost. But the war can be won. Not since Bill Clinton famously pondered the meaning of the word "is" has a Democratic leader confused things as much as Harry Reid did with his inept discussion of the alternatives in Iraq.
That's Broder quoting Chuck Schumer in order to demonstrate that Reid is an embarrassment. Pretty damning, isn't it? Notice that Schumer is defending Reid--the exact opposite of what Broder claims at the outset. Again, we must ask, who exactly is calling for Reid's resignation?
Nor is this the first time Senate Democrats, who chose Reid as their leader over Chris Dodd of Connecticut, have had to ponder the political fallout from one of Reid's tussles with the language.
What political fallout? Last I checked, a majority of Americans believe this war is lost, or that we can't win. And militarily, we can't. That's what Schumer was talking about: the Iraq is over, but we can still win the War on Terror. I think the whole concept of the War on Terror is an error of conceptualization, but that's beside the point. What Reid said was unambiguous and needed to be said: we can't win in Iraq, so why are we still there?
Most of these earlier gaffes were personal, bespeaking a kind of displaced aggressiveness on the part of the onetime amateur boxer. But Reid's verbal wanderings on the war in Iraq are consequential -- not just for his party and the Senate but for the more important question of what happens to U.S. policy in that violent country and to the men and women whose lives are at stake.
Broder doesn't explain these grave consequences, he just says they exist. Starting to see a pattern here?
Given the way the Constitution divides warmaking power between the president, as commander in chief, and Congress, as sole source of funds to support the armed services, it is essential that at some point Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be able to negotiate with the White House to determine the course America will follow until a new president takes office.
Classic Broder centrism: "negotiating" means accommodating yourself to what the GOP wants. And in this case he thinks Congress should negotiate with a president that has no credibility, who is incompetent, who has lost the confidence of the entire country and who has no clear plan or goals but just wants to hand a war he created off to the next guy. And Broder thinks this is perfectly alright. Words fail me.
Instead of reinforcing the important proposition -- defined by the Iraq Study Group-- that a military strategy for Iraq is necessary but not sufficient to solve the myriad political problems of that country, Reid has mistakenly argued that the military effort is lost but a diplomatic-political strategy can still succeed.
The Democrats deserve better, and the country needs more, than Harry Reid has offered as Senate majority leader.
That's it. The column ends there. Not a shred of evidence presented that Reid is as incompetent as Alberto Gonzales. Only that Reid is an "embarrassment," a claim for which Broder provides zero evidence. He made the whole thing up. It is nothing but his opinion, and it is a poor opinion at that.
Today marks the day when David Broder lost what little ability he retained to persuade. I think it is over for him after this and the Washington Post needs to take a long hard look at itself and the sort of garbage it allows its editorial staff to print. It is nothing short of an embarrassment to the nation.