Cycles of Vengeance

Back in February of 2004, Frank Foer did a great piece for TNR looking at the few members of the foreign policy establishment who had the temerity to work with Howard Dean and then the wave of retribution launched against them when he lost:

By the time Dean began assembling his national security team, though, most of the Democratic foreign policy establishment--which is now heavily clustered at the Brookings Institution--was already quietly committed to the Kerry, Wesley Clark, and John Edwards campaigns (in the case of some wonks, all three at once). Without the party's A-list names, the Dean campaign began searching for advisers in less glamorous quarters. For their foreign policy rollout, they signed up former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and former national security adviser Tony Lake--veterans of Clinton's first term. But, in Democratic circles, Clinton's first term is widely considered a low point in the party's foreign policy, and, in any case, Christopher and Lake weren't substantive advisers. So, last fall, Dean recruited two mid-level Clintonites from Brookings for his day-to-day needs, former Director of European Affairs at the National Security Council Ivo Daalder and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice.

For many in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, Dean was seen as dangerous. They worried that his strident opposition to the Iraq war would revive old clichés about the party's pacifism and that his claim that Saddam Hussein's capture did nothing to enhance U.S. security would prove fodder for countless GOP ads. No one was more concerned on this score than Daalder's Brookings colleague and occasional co-author, Michael O'Hanlon, who penned scathing op-eds in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times attacking Dean. O'Hanlon, who advises several of the candidates--including Kerry--told me, "More Democrats should have recognized [Dean's] danger and spoken out against him." Within Brookings, O'Hanlon's pieces were seen as a direct assault on Daalder and Rice and a break with the institution's genteel mores. One Brookings fellow describes them as "just bizarre. Forgive me, but that was personal, not professional." Others at the think tank reported witnessing loud, uncomfortable hallway arguments between Daalder and O'Hanlon over Dean.

At the time, Dean was still riding high, and--O'Hanlon's attacks notwithstanding--so were Daalder and Rice. But now that Dean is done, Rice and especially Daalder may find their career prospects also dimmed. When I spoke with the foreign policy gurus who would likely stock a Democratic administration, they seemed to regard the Dean campaign as a debilitating black mark on one's resumé. It doesn't help Daalder that he took an aggressive posture during Dean's glory days. Instead of privately conceding his candidate's foreign policy shortcomings, Daalder defended him to the hilt. "After Dean delivered the line about Saddam's capture, Ivo was quite animated in defending that sentence," says one Brookings fellow. And, as a former Clinton administration official told me, "If you're a policy adviser, you exist to stop lines like that from being delivered. And, if it gets delivered over your objections, you have an obligation to fall on your sword. This whole campaign causes me to question [Daalder's and Rice's] judgment."

That's something people who realize that Dean was right about the war and right about Saddam's capture might want to keep in mind. This year, clearly, you don't have distinctions that are as clear cut as the ones prompted by the 2004 primary but you still do have echoes of this same clash inside the establishment.