In July 2002, at the first Senate hearing on Iraq, then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden pledged his allegiance to Bush’s war. Ever since, the blunt-spoken Biden has seized every opportunity to dismiss antiwar critics within his own party, vocally denouncing Bush’s handling of the war while doggedly supporting the war effort itself. Biden carried this message into the Kerry campaign as the candidate’s closest foreign policy confidant, and a few days after announcing his own intention to run for the presidency in 2008, he gave a major speech at the Brookings Institution in which he criticized rising calls for withdrawal as a “gigantic mistake.”
The Democrats’ speculative front-runner for ’08, Hillary Clinton, has offered similarly hawkish rhetoric. “If we were to artificially set a deadline of some sort, that would be like a green light to the terrorists, and we can’t afford to do that,” Clinton told CBS in February. Instead, she recently proposed enlarging the Army by 80,000 troops “to respond to threats wherever danger lies.” Clinton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, appears more comfortable accommodating the President’s Iraq policy than opposing it, and her early and sustained support for the war (and frequent photo-ops with the troops) supposedly reinforces her national security credentials.
This is an amazing article that explains why the presumptive leaders of the Democratic party continue to get it wrong on Iraq in spite of overwhelming opposition to Bush’s war in the Democratic Party and 60% opposition in the general public.
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. This group has always been quietly influential, but since 9/11 it has risen in prominence, egging on and underpinning elected officials, crowding out dissenters within its own ranks and becoming increasingly ideologically monolithic. So far its members remain unchallenged. 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.
Ari Berman provides the outline of the Strategic Class Pyramid with familiar names and institutions and then points out the fundamental flaw of parroting the theocon talking points:
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, and to be a national security Democrat, a Democrat must enthusiastically support a militarized “war on terror,” protracted occupation in Iraq, “muscular” democratization and ever-larger defense budgets. 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. In that sense, the bottom of the pyramid is always interacting with the top. 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.
That’s exactly the script played out a couple of weeks ago by Al From, Blueprint editor Peter Ross Range and Will Marshall at the Progressive Policy Institute.
The few rational foreign policy voices in the Democratic Party get drowned out:
“There’s an approach which says, ‘Let’s raise the stakes and call,'” says former Senator Gary Hart, a rare voice of principled opposition in the party today. “That if Republicans want a ten-division Army, let’s be for a twelve-division Army. I think that’s just nonsense, frankly. It’s stupid policy. Trying to get on the other side of the Republicans is folly, both politically and substantively.”
If Hart is correct, then 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. Bill Clinton’s misguided political dictum that the public “would rather have somebody who’s strong and wrong than somebody who’s weak and right” applies equally to the strategic class.
It looks like the Democratic Party is destined to follow BillandHillary over the Iraq war cliff unless someone or something can wake them up:
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.