The Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon tries valiantly in this USA Today piece to save the Democratic Party from itself on Iraq. Given the vituperation I’ve seen from the Democratic Left whenever O’Hanlon’s name comes up, I doubt his efforts will succeed. But he does come up with a novel argument that could be politically useful to Democratic moderates, such as those running to defeat GOP-leaning House seats next year:
Without a Democratic takeover of the Congress in 2006, there is little chance that President Bush would have acknowledged his Iraq policy to be failing and that Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker would have been accorded the resources and the policy latitude needed to radically improve the situation on the ground.
Democrats were not the authors of the surge and in fact generally opposed it. But without their pressure, it probably never would have happened.
Despite the constant hand-wringing about the perils of partisanship, vigorous competition is a valuable means of forcing needed change on incumbent politicians, so this argument has some merit. That doesn’t mean it will be embraced by prominent Democrats on the national stage, such as presidential candidates and congressional leaders. That’s the other side of partisanship, the part that provokes justifiable hand-wringing — too many politicians seem incapable of interpreting events as Americans rather than as partisans.
There’s a similar dynamic underway regarding the NIE on Iran. If it is true that the clandestine nuclear-weapons program was suspended in Fall 2003, it is very good news. It means that the policies of America and its allies have been correct and successful. These policies include the accumulation and use of military might on Iran’s eastern and western borders, yes, but also multi-lateral diplomacy and policies initiated and supported by Democrats and Europeans. There’s credit enough to share, and plenty of room still to make partisan points on the specifics and on other issues, but instead there is this idiotic effort to spin a foreign-policy success as a Bush loss. It makes no sense on the merits. It makes sense only as hyper-partisanship.
I’m not persuaded that it’s a winner at the polls. Americans will be glad, not mad, if they read and believe the NIE findings. And they will be relieved if the situation in Iraq continues to improve, not paranoid and distrustful.