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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, December 27, 2007


Bush blinders, 'Bama, and Bhutto

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, December 27, 2007 permalink View blog reactions
One of the themes I have sounded regularly is that the mainstream progressive left has a dangerously reflexive anti-Bush filter when it comes to foreign policy. There are many avenues of legitimate critique of the Bush Administration when it comes to foreign policy, and it is impossible to deny that the Iraq War has been a strategic misstep in the context of the broader war on Terror (especially since a pro-Israel, anti-Iranian, secular republic governed by pro-Western democratic technocrats is unlikely to ever emerge in Iraq). But beyond the immediate theater of Iraq, carrying over the Bush baggage only serves to obscure and obstruct any honest attempt at devising a rational policy.

Case in point: the assassination yesterday of Benazir Bhutto. The Democratic candidates were quick to integrate the event into their "closing arguments" as the Iowa caucuses loom large (and earning them pointed critiques from Josh Marshall, Paul Krugman, and Atrios). However, at myDD, Todd Beeton took issue with Obama's comments in particular:

So why was it that Obama's statement appeared to be the most fear-mongery of them all, invoking the word "terrorist" twice, accepting the Musharraf party line on the assassination (i.e that it was terrorists, while many blame Musharraf himself,) seeming to jump to conclusions that not even Fox News would make.

Obama's statement was "fear-mongery" ? This is what Obama said to CBS:

"It’s a tragic situation. My heart goes out to the families. But it’s an indication that we are in a dangerous world right now that we have to apply good judgment in our foreign policy," said Obama.

"We’ve been distracted by Iraq. We have not been paying attention to Pakistan for several years and as a consequence we have had a subversion of democracy at the same time we have ignored or at least not dealt with the growing threat of Islamic militants in Pakistan. If anything, Iraq has helped to spur some of the militancy in Pakistan. Now moving forward we have to send a message that we stand strong with the Pakistani people in moving the democratic process forward but we have to continue to press, to deal with this on going chaotic situation with the militants in Pakistan."

Later, Obama's official statement included this:

"I am shocked and saddened by the death of Benazir Bhutto in this terrorist atrocity. She was a respected and resilient advocate for the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people. We join with them in mourning her loss and stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world."

to which Todd at myDD replied,

for someone who claims to want to bring about change from the "Bush/Clinton status quo" the statement certainly appeared to embrace the Bush "war on terror" frame, that there is a central conflict between terrorists and forces of democracy, reinforcing rather than subverting conventional status quo thinking.

Here, Todd equates the concept of terrorists attacking the democratic process in Pakistan via assassination to the Bush/Clinton status quo. But that's exactly what happened! In fact Al Qaeda claims credit for the assassination, and any marginally rigorous assessment of Pakistani politics suggests that the attack could not have happened without at least some involvement from the infamous ISI, whose Islamist infestation is well known.

In fact there IS a central conflict between terrorists in general - and Al Qaeda in specific - and the forces of democracy. The Bush framing of a "War on Terror" may be bogus but there is a very real War Against Terrorists going on, to which Obama's comments have direct relevance. The status quo thinking that Todd sneers at above is in this case highly relevant - and the proper critique of the Bush policy is that is has deviated from that thinking by pursuing the adventure in Iraq rather than focusing its energy on Afghanistan. Dismissing the very real fact that there is a violent threat to democracy - and that democracy promotion is still a valid foreign policy goal for our own national security, despite the failures of Iraq - only undermines the argument that the Democrats are making for their own foreign policy credentials.

UPDATE: Commentors at Dean's World take issue with my assertion that "is impossible to deny that the Iraq War has been a strategic misstep in the context of the broader war on Terror". Apparently it is indeed possible :) Their argument and my response are below the fold.


Bill from INDC (www):

I could make a decent, subjective case specifically based on strategic timelines, centered around the regional discreditation of al Qaeda (who can't even get decent press on Al Jazeera these days) and its impact in accelerating disapproval of terrorism. Plus the eventual character of the Iraqi government is yet to be seen, and it may yet represent a "third way" between Islamic radicalism and autocracy, commonly seen as the twin, competing power centers that breed terrorism. [link]

Scott Kirwin (www):
I'm with Bill on this. That line grated on me too.

Once we took sides against Saddam, we were locked into the history we live today. However before that point things could have been very, very different.

Would they have been worse - from a purely American perspective? Was he a man we could deal with?

I dunno. [link]

Aziz (www):

Bill, Scott,

I will happily agree if you want to assert that the Iraq War could have been a positive strategic step in the war against terrorists (the war on terror, on the other hand, is a farcical construct). However, for that to be so would have required a lot of things to go our way that didnt, and for us to have done a lot of things that we didnt (for example, not disbanding the Army, or implementing something like Vietnam-CAPS from the start). In other words, the Iraq War was a longshot Hail Mary even if it was executed with perfect precision by the Second Coming of Bush Senior and Al Gore.

Since the war against terrorists is kind of important, and those guys are still a worldwide threat with significant body count to their name, I personally think a more conservative yet focused approach was a wiser avenue. Something like, dropping even half of the resources we have squandered in blood and money on Iraq into Afghanistan instead. Ah well. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Stuck now. [link]

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.