My LA Times colleague surges against yours truly today, arguing that Bush doesn’t want to win and I’m naive for thinking he does:
Writing on this page Thursday, Jonah Goldberg praised President Bush for telling Americans that “he will settle for nothing less than winning” in Iraq. Sure, Goldberg acknowledged, Bush “may be deluding himself,” but at least he’s “trying to win.” No, he’s not.
It’s clear that Bush knows perfectly well there’s no possibility of “winning” anymore, so apparently he’s seeking in Iraq exactly what Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger sought in Vietnam before the 1972 election: a face-saving “decent interval” before the virtually inevitable collapse of the U.S.-backed government.
Me: She goes on to back up her case that Bush doesn’t really want to win two ways: rank assertion and inapt analogy. She simply says Bush doesn’t want to win because in her opinion Iraq is unwinnable. She then gussies up the assertion by an extended discussion of Nixon and Vietnam. One — but not the only — problem with that analogy is that Nixon was running for re-election. Bush isn’t. Nonetheless, she writes:
The surge makes Bush look, as Goldberg suggests, like he really wants to win, even as he refuses to take the necessary and honest steps to mitigate the terrible damage we’ve already done. The surge buys time — and meanwhile, the Democratic Party is placed in the same untenable position it was in during the last stages of the Vietnam War.
Me: This is just all so odd. The idea that Bush went into war to press Republican advantage has been around for years. Usually when it’s scrutinized, peddlers switch to other mind-reading theories — he wanted to prove something to daddy, to get oil, religious crusade etc. What gave the politics theory — a deeply shabby theory even in 2002-2003 — some superficial plausibility is that Bush was actually standing for election again. But now? He’s supposedly doubling down in Iraq now for the benefit of the GOP? Come on.
Brooks’ whole column starts from the assumption that whatever Bush is saying must be a lie and that those around him know it’s a lie. Then she comes up with the theory that best flows from that unsubstantiated assumption. She uses some sophomoric cui bono logic and voila: Bush is doing this to help John McCain or Mitt Romney or some other unnamed Republican in 2008, even though Bush’s plan and this war are already unpopular and the Democrats have the better side of the issue politically.
Indeed, the problem with the Democrats is the exact opposite of what Brooks claims. Their position is probably wise politically — they get to be anti-war without dealing with the consequences of their convictions. They get to make this “Bush’s war” and carp from the sidelines. The real problem with the Dems is that their position is morally repugnant. They believe the war is lost and that Americans are dying in a pointless cause. Well, if you believe that, you should do something about it. Give Teddy K, the netroots and the Sheehan crowd some credit, they actually have the courage of their convictions. The Democratic leadership doesn’t.
Brooks’ column strikes me as deeply cynical in that rather than make this moral case, she thinks she needs to explain to the Democrats why it would be in their political interest to do what she believes is a moral and strategic imperative. She may be right, but that reflects a problem with the Democrats, not my column.