Is a Democratic president thrust to the helm in 2008 the only way to get both parties behind the seriousness of Iraq? Jonah Goldberg toes the precipice of this line of thought.
This wisp of a notion is simply this: Maybe a Democrat should win in 2008.
Personally, I donâ€™t believe in this poltergeist, at least not yet. But every now and then, I must confess, I do shiver from its touch.
The idea goes something like this: If you believe that the war on terror is real â€” really real â€” then you think it is inevitable that more and bloodier conflicts with radical Islam are on the way, regardless of who is in the White House. If the clash of civilizations is afoot, then the issues separating Democrats and Republicans are as pressing as whether the captain of the Titanic is going to have fish or chicken for dinner. Thereâ€™s a showdown coming. Period. Full stop. My task isnâ€™t to convince you that this view is correct (though I basically believe it is), but merely that it is honestly and firmly held by many on the right and by a comparative handful on the left.
And thatâ€™s the problem: Only a handful of people on the Left â€” and far too few liberals â€” see radical Islamists as a bigger threat than George W. Bush. Which is why if you really think that we are in an existential conflict with a deadly enemy, thereâ€™s a good case for the Democrats to take the reins. Not because Democrats are better, wiser or more responsible about foreign policy. Thatâ€™s a case for Democrats to make about themselves and certainly not one many on the right believe. No, the argument, felt in places we donâ€™t talk about at cocktail parties (vide A Few Good Men), is that the Democrats have been such irresponsible backseat drivers that they have to be forced to take the wheel to grasp how treacherous the road ahead is.
While I agree with Mr. Goldberg that we are indeed facing a clash of two civilizations, the modern West and primitive barbarism of expansionist radical Islam, and I agree with some of the points he presents for this notion, I just cannot embrace it. Should the Dems triumph in ’08, I would expect a rapid withdrawal from Iraq with little or no increase in focus on Afghanistan. I also would not expect another 9/11, at least not during the first term and not if our enemies have a clue. That would be a window for our enemies to consolidate their position in Iraq, shift their eyes to Afghanistan, and continue relatively unabated their efforts in Europe, northern Africa and the Asian Pacific region. That would be four years of progress and radicalization on their part and retreat on our part, with all progress of the last five-plus years wasted. That would also be four years of relative peace for the U.S., leaving the Dems in the White House and (presumably) Congress to work toward enacting their policies without substantially strengthening our nation.
No, I cannot embrace that notion at all. That said, it does hinge on a bit of shrewd political calculation and restraint by our enemies, and they have overplayed their hands many times to date. I do wonder how some of the current Democratic candidates would fare in the Oval Office after another 9/11. I also wonder if it would again take something on the scope of 9/11 for them to see it as something worthy of a sizable response.
Either way, all initiative would be handed back to our enemies.
Hat tip to Dean Esmay, who doesn’t agree with Mr. Goldberg and me that it is a war of civilizations. Perhaps that is because he thinks that Goldberg considers the other civilization to be Islam rather than a dangerous subset. Still, Mr. Esmay makes a couple of key observations, one bitingly bitter and one truly rational, so I’ll let him have the last words here.
But I do, with some sadness, agree with most of his other arguments. In the year or two after 9/11 I genuinely believed in “partisanship ends at the water’s edges.” Democrats stomped that to death for me and made me feel deeply betrayed. Now I feel cynical, and like their party will only grow up on this issue if they’re actually forced to be put in charge.
Besides, we’re going to have a Democratic administration sooner or later.