Monday, November 06, 2006

So now we all agree now, right?

I have watched with great amusement the recent parade of neo-conservative pundits and politicos across my television screen denouncing Bush and Rumsfeld for their "incompetence" in handling the war. Here we have nearly the entire body of the neo-con movement stumbling over themselves to hold a televised John Kerry-alike contest. Watching people Andrew Sullivan and Richard Pearl attack Bush's Iraq War policy is something akin to watching the flying monkeys attack the Wicked Witch of the West. A lot of liberals seem to be taking a false sense of comfort in this development.

But is this latest trend really a vindication of the "incompetence" argument as a winning political position? Of course, complaints about the Bush Administration's incompetence are manifestly true and certainly deserve examination but is it all there is?

On the surface it may appear to some that this flip-flop on the part of the neo-cons represents some kind of mea culpa or an acknowledgement that there was something wrong with the war itself. But that's not really what's happening here. Instead, what I think this spectacle does is bring into sharp relief the weakness of the "incompetence" argument advanced by many Iraq War opponents. That weakness lies in the calculated, weak-kneed decision on the part of the some of the Democratic leadership to frame the debate around the "incompetence" of the conduct of the war instead of the the real issue -- the wisdom, necessity and morality (the lack thereof) of the war to begin with.

Focusing on the competence issue to the exclusion of the greater issues concerning the morality gap, the wisdom gap and the necessity gap of this war comes with a heavy price that we see being exacted today. It comes with the implication that we all agree the war was the right thing to do. It suggests that the only remaining question is how to go about fighting it. Because of that this tact is just fine by the neo-cons. It represents an unwarranted and unforgivable surrender of the debate by the so-called opposition party, providing an easy-access political escape hatch for everyone involved.

"It's not the war that's wrong, it's the handling of it that was wrong," they can say.

So, with the Bush administration's political ship, as represented by poll numbers, sinking like a lead balloon, the main cheerleaders for this war are free to abandon ship, attach themselves to another vessel and pursue of the exact same agenda. That is what is happening now.

In the meantime, because so many Democrats have chosen to fight this battle on the on the grounds that the is simply a question of incompetence, ignoring the immoral, unnecessary and foolish aspects of it, they find themselves without a retort as these right-wingers gleefully usurp their argument completely, pretzelize it beyond all recognition and use it to promote the very agenda it was supposed to speak against.

So it goes that the neo-cons will come to say: "So, we're all agreement then, right? Great! On to Iran!"

The Lesson: You can not attempt to win a debate by conceding your strongest points at the very outset. The Dems who poo-pooed their anti-war constituents as "out of the mainstream" are now having their traingulating asses handed to them in the grand scheme of things. The sheer volume of Bush/GOP crimes may yet allow them to win control of the congress (we can only hope). But their own refusal to be a true opposition continues to hamper their progress on the major issues and enables, even excuses, the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush administration.