Strategic Drift

Read CAP's Podesta, Korb, and Katulis on "strategic drift" in Iraq. It's a great memo, encompassing both the policy issues, the failures of certain segments of the "expert" community, the irresponsibility of Bush and the GOP, and — yes — the fecklessness of Democratic Party politicians.

I'll focus on this last part a bit because it's relevant to the major themes of my book. They write that Democrats "now risk drifting themselves into offering only a vague and muddled vision. Progressives must provide a clear alternative to counter the Bush policy of strategic drift—one that takes back control of America’s security interests." This sort of thing has frequently been a problem in the post-9/11 world, and it's a depressing cycle. It starts with the fact that there's no major interest group on the left concerned with matters of war and peace — no equivalent to the AFL-CIO or Change to Win or the Sierra Club or the NAACP or NARAL seeking to use progressive politicians as a vehicle to advance a specific policy agenda, able to provide resources (including things as simple as policy analysis) to allies, and capable of sometimes pushing people to take inconvenient risks. Consequently, you tend to wind up with a political strategy of pure opportunism and positions being staked out purely with a view to short-term political expediency.

The trouble in policy terms is that this tends to lead to bad policy positions like backing the war in 2002, the mau-mauing of Howard Dean when Saddam was captured in 2003, the incompetence argument in 2004, the short-lived effort to get to Bush's right on Iran in late 2005 and early 2006, the enthusiasm for "soft partition" and "training" in 2007. The trouble in political terms is that this kind of bobbing and weaving doesn't provide a foundation for anything. People can't hone political arguments in favor of a progressive national security agenda if there isn't actually a coherent agenda to defend. People can't fully reap advantage of disastrous conservative errors if they didn't clearly oppose making the errors at the time. People can't respond persuasively to dynamic events and new issues if they're constantly re-inventing the wheel.

For a while, though, Democrats were getting their shit together on the narrow subject of Iraq. But as the CAP crew argues, having been legislatively defeat by the Republicans, they now seem to be losing focus in ways that are bad for the country and unlikely to serve their interests in the long run.