Thursday, July 31, 2003

The rationale continues to shift

I'm really beginning to consider "Chatterbox" by Timothy Noah over at Slate to be a must-read, and yesterday's bit is no exception: He talks of how "jangled" Bush seemed at his press conference, how the president inelegantly handled the issue of whether Saddam was a "threat" or not, and then touches on how the post-war rationale for the conflict continues to undergo a subtle shift away from the WMDs, which, to many involved, really don't matter anymore.

(Note: As the main reason given for our entry into this war, it continues to matter a great deal to many of us, Mr. President.)

Quoting a piece from Paul Gigot in the Wall Street Journal, Noah reflects:

But Gigot then goes on to suggest, as Bush did not, that finding these weapons is really beside the point. You can't say this directly, because then war critics will ridicule you. But you can say it indirectly, in Gigot's case by attributing it to GIs who are there, which gives them the moral high ground. What we should focus on, Gigot continues, is that the Iraqis are much better off without Saddam (indisputably true), and that we should now try to help them build a better government (also true). Although Bush talked vaguely today about how our victory over Saddam would help build peace in the Middle East (debatable), he mostly re-fought the WMD case for war—and that's a fight Bush can't win in the absence of more compelling evidence that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons. The human rights case for defeating Saddam, though, is compelling, especially when viewed from ground level. Never mind that, except for a very few liberal hawks (Slate's Christopher Hitchens and former Sen. Bob Kerrey come to mind), nobody ever argued before the war that Saddam's violation of human rights was the principal casus belli.

Isn't it clear that no one argued this because the American public wouldn't have bought it as a primary reason to go to war?

And the local Democrats had better take it seriously

Democrats here in Lancaster County are a fairly ineffectual bunch. It's not just that they are way outnumbered in terms of registration, it's that there often seems to be no real, concerted effort to increase their numbers, no plan. In a growing and increasingly "suburbanized" community, they could make inroads. They don't seem to know how they might do that.

If there's any real plan to start small and work your way up - a borough council seat here, a school board seat there, a gradual yet concerted plan to show the people in the suburbs that, look, we're not a bunch of extremists, we have jobs and families and take care of our homes like you do, you are one of us, I don't see it. My good friend Pastor Dan tells a sad tale of attending a Young Democrats meeting here. The main topic of discussion: Finding a better place to meet.

You gotta start small, I suppose. But still.

Anyway, as the minority party, the Democrats are, or at least have been, guaranteed one seat on our three-person county board of commissioners. Now, however, a guy named Jim Clymer, a local attorney who is so far out on the right wing that he's got the last feather, is running for a spot as county commissioner. Clymer just happens to be national chairman of the Constitution Party, headquartered here in Lancaster - which, the more I look at it, appears to be more and more the kind of "respectible" institution that was behind so many of those militia movements in the mid-1990s.

That's Lancaster County: Always a decade or so behind the curve.

Read the party platform on its site for a taste of what I'm talking about. Also follow the link to the Live Free or Die Campaign Supply page, where you can get all your party literature and bumper stickers. You can also buy all sorts of "politically incorrect" bumper stickers that demand God be put back into government, invite you to "visualize abortionists on trial," and, my favorite, the one that says, "Homophobia - No; Homonausea - Yes."

Constitution Party types might bristle at the connection I'm about to make. But realistically, how far is this line of thinking from that advocated by Eric Rudolph, or perhaps the Rev. Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps?

Clymer might disavow this. But in our morning newspaper this morning (sorry, no link), he's quoted as saying:

"Generally, I think the Democrats are out of step with the prevailing ideology in Lancaster County. And given the overwhelming registration edge for the Republicans, I think it comes down to a race for that minority seat."

Well, much as I dislike Clymer's politics, I have to admit he's right on the latter count. There are a lot of people here in Lancaster County who hate fags and would like to see abortion providers put on trial - if not outright snuffed out.

But the Democratic candidates for commissioner have thus far sort of pooh-poohed the idea of a Clymer candidacy. They don't appear particularly worried.

They damned well ought to be.

If they know what's good for them, they will start, right now, trying to shine a light on what the Constitution Party really is all about. They will start, right now, doing everything they can to make sure Democrats - and Republicans uneasy about the shift of their county government to the far right, we're talking the far right - get out and vote when the time comes.

They'll concede that there are a lot of people here who do want to see God put back into government. But they'll realize there are more who will be uncomfortable with Clymer's far-right politics, the numbers of which would grow dramatically were the Democrats to make a real effort to educate people as to exactly what those politics are.

Not that, as a county commissioner, such a right-wing type would have any real power - and in fact, fiscal conservatives such as myself might be pleased with the power they do exercise over budgetary matters.

But it would be a psychological blow to Democrats, and rather indicative of the Democratic situation nationwide, where there appear to be no concerted plan, no organized approach, a scattershot approach where we don't really worry about what might happen.

Until it's too late.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

In it for the long haul

So now President Bush has indeed declared that the buck stops with him regarding the "16 words. At the same time, in the same breath, he has attributed credibility to the report that al-Qaida might be planning new attacks, possibly involving hijackings.

It's well and good that the federal government is taking this threat seriously, as it of course should. I'm certainly no conspiracy theorist, but it does strike me that another terror attack certainly would put an end to all this nonsense about yellowcake and Condi and who knew what and who let it slip through. Frightened Americans once again would rally around their president. In a timely fashion, if you're Karl Rove.

So maybe al-Qaida harbor Republican tendencies. Who knew?

Kidding aside, though, it strikes me that as we've been considering neoconservative duplicity today, it might be worth considering what Bush and all those behind our strike in Iraq really mean when they say, as Bush did today, that "The war on terror goes on, as I continually remind people."

In fact, it's becoming clearer that the war on terror may well go on, and on, and on.

For if, in fact, Den Beste's assertion is correct, that we went into Iraq not to root out WMDs, not to save the poor, oppressed Iraqis, not to enforce any United Nations resolution but in fact to establish a stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East that might serve as a beacon for the nations of Islam there, turn them away from the radicalism that lashed out on 9/11 and other times, we may be in for a longer haul than anyone has dared to mention.

For if this is our strategy, Iraq is necessarily only the beginning. Even if the neocon pipe dream of a liberal democracy modeled on our own, where Islamic radicalism is watered down by the lure of the secular good life, this and this alone will not cause the regimes in Tehran and Damascus and elsewhere to collapse. Rather, Iraq necessarily was the first of many armed interventions that we will have to undertake, if in fact we are going to root out terrorism where it grows and plant not just new regimes but an entirely different way of life in this troubled region.

That is what we mean by being in this for the long haul. We're not talking just one Iraq; we're talking two, three, maybe more Iraqs. And now, those in favor of such a thing will say, we must proceed on this course, for already we have begun the task in Iraq. We cannot abandon the effort now.

Which is why, perhaps, it would make more sense for those opposed to this adventurism, this grandiose scheme guaranteed to cost lives and untold billions of dollars, to stomp on the brakes.

Which is to say that Buchanan's suggestion that we get out of Iraq now and leave the rebuilding to the Iraqis - or whomever else might want to help them do the job - may be impractical. But let us not continue to follow the neoconservatives down this path of folly.

Let those who have opposed the war - let the Democratic presidential contenders - say that what we begun we must finish, but we shall not have a repeat of this fiasco, we shall not invent new reasons to invade new countries all in the name of some theory that Americans who must go and fight and die or at the very least pay for never got the chance to vote on.

For while those in favor of the war may insist that going on the Syria, Iran - Libya? Egypt? What if they stand in our way? - is necessary in order to eliminate the source of terrorism, the fact is that this is one gigantic crapshoot, a gamble that democracy as practiced by the United States will "take," that by doing away with the regimes that sponsor terrorism you will eradicate the hatred that causes young men to fly jetliners into buildings in the first place, that you can indeed cow or coerce or destroy all who oppose you.

Neoconservatives would say it's a goal we must embrace, a bet we must make, one we must win.

Sometimes the cards aren't worth a dime if you don't lay them down.

But sometimes they're worth even less if you do.