Tue Aug 16th, 2005 at 04:10:38 AM EST
During the run-up to the Iraq war, and the 2004 US elections, a lot of Europeans deceived themselves about the Democrats - the leadership, not the membership and voters -: the majority of the former were just as pro-war and just as dead wrong as the Republicans, only used a different language and wanted the war to be fought differently; and their support network/echochamber was less known than the neocons'.
The confusion existed in America too, as evidenced by the popular notion that Kerry was an 'anti-war candidate'. The Democratic base began to take heed of the so-called national security Democrats only recently, when they vehemently attempted to undercut fellow Democrats, and gave support to some Bush policies on key issues (the origin of the new "Vichy Democrats" curse).
Now, in The Nation, Ari Berman supplies a much-needed analysis of the structure and workings of the national security Democrat network, from the politicians through advisers and think tanks down to pundits. Below (and below the fold), some choice quotes on the essence - for details (persons, groups, actual events), read the article.
...Sixty-three percent want US troops brought home within the next year. Yet a recent National Journal "insiders poll" found that a similar margin of Democratic members of Congress reject setting any timetable. The possibility that America's military presence in Iraq may be doing more harm than good is considered beyond the pale of "sophisticated" debate.
The continued high standing of the hawks has been made possible by their enablers in the strategic class -- the foreign policy advisers, think-tank specialists and pundits. Their presumed expertise gives the strategic class a unique license to speak for the party on national security issues... It's more than a little ironic that the people who got Iraq so wrong continue to tell the Democrats how to get it right.
...At the bottom of the pyramid are the liberal hawks in the punditocracy, figures like New Republic editor Peter Beinart, Time writer Joe Klein and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. These pundits, along with purely partisan outfits... help to both set the agenda and frame the debate. The journalistic hawks churn out the agitprop that the more respectable think tanks turn into "serious" scholarship, some of which eventually becomes policy, or at least talking points, when adopted by the politicians.
The above quotes show that there is a feedback that is free of a real understanding of the issues, a groupthink if you like.
...Central to the liberal hawks' mission is a challenge to other Democrats that they too must become "national security Democrats," to borrow a phrase coined by Holbrooke. To talk about national security a Democrat must be a national security Democrat... The liberal hawks caricature other Democrats just as Republicans long stereotyped them. The pundits magnify the perception that Democrats are soft on national security, and they influence how consultants view public opinion and develop the message for candidates... It matters little that people like Beinart have no national security experience -- as long as the hawks identify themselves as national security Democrats, they're free to play the game.
This is the really infuriating part. Not entirely unlike the neocons, here is a group arrogantly cocksure of its own expertise, importance and responsibility, but in fact they don't have a clue - neither about whom they want to attack abroad, nor about the consequences of their actions, nor about the weak footing of the evidence and arguments they base their opinion upon. (Friedman, Pollack: just LOL...) It was great that the US and not just US Left seized upon Suskind's "reality-based community" quote, but unfortunately, the national security Democrats aren't part of it - even if they themselves don't realise.
...Even at their darkest hour, the strategic class found a way to profit from its errors, coalescing around a view that its members had been misled by the Bush Administration and that too little planning, too few troops and too much ideology were largely to blame for the chaos in Iraq. The hawks decided it was acceptable to criticize the execution of the war, but not the war itself...
As for a view of the future:
Pollack continues to thrive at Brookings and, despite never visiting the country, has a new book out about Iran. Shortly after the election, Beinart penned a 5,683-word essay calling on hawkish Democrats to repudiate "softs" like MoveOn.org and Michael Moore; the essay won Beinart -- already a fellow at Brookings -- a $650,000 book deal and high-profile visibility on the Washington ideas circuit. Subsequently a statement of leading policy apparatchiks on the PPI publication Blueprint challenged fellow Democrats to make fighting Islamic totalitarianism the central organizing principle of the party.... A number of leading specialists signed a letter by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century asking Congress to boost the defense budget and increase the size of the military by 25,000 troops each year over the next several years.
Europe, the European Left shouldn't give automatic support, but should give attention to what these guys are up to, should they be elected in 2008.
...why does so much of the Democratic strategic class march in lockstep? There's no simple answer. The insularity of Washington, pressures of careerism, fear of appearing soft and the absence of institutional alternatives all contribute to a limiting of the debate.
...Those insiders who doubt the wisdom of a hawkish course often get the cold shoulder if they stray too far from the strategic line. After criticizing the rush to war, Ivo Daalder of Brookings became the foreign policy point man for Howard Dean's insurgent campaign... Today Daalder blames the antiwar movement for Dean's defeat and calls for more troops in Iraq.
There are more examples of such mobbing. The conclusion:
...A few small progressive think tanks, helped by the dissident establishment, have tried to pry open badly needed institutional space for a bolder national security policy. A few courageous elected officials are attempting to drum up Congressional support for withdrawal. Thus far, the hawks have drowned them out. Unless and until the strategic class transforms or declines in stature, the Democrats beholden to them will be doomed to repeat their Iraq mistakes.