THE "FRONT-ROOM DEAL": After I said yesterday that I don’t read The Nation anymore, I spent some time at their website today, and read this column by Jonathan Schell.
Schell points out that at the Boston convo, much was made of John Kerry’s Vietnam service, but little was made of his post-Vietnam antiwar activism, from whence his prestige in the Democratic Party originates. There’s a disconnect between rank-and-file Democrats’ strong opposition to the Iraq war, and the convention’s strategic decision not to state that opposition directly: "[T]he party has made what appears to be a tactical decision to hide its faith… The Democrats are united but have concealed the cause that unites them." Schell worries that the strategy could backfire in one of two ways. One is that "[i]f strong and wrong is really the winning formula, Bush may be the public’s choice." The second is that a President Kerry may be cornered by his tough Commander-in-Chief persona, and find himself unable to change course in Iraq.
This is carping from the progressive base of the party. Happily, little of this carping was evident in Boston. But we’re going to hear some during the fall campaign, and we’ll hear a lot of it if Kerry takes office next year.
I don’t share Schell’s worry about the campaign strategy. I think it's the right one. The GOP is eager to accuse Kerry of planning to cut and run on Iraq, so he has to guard against that charge. And while I opposed the invasion, since it happened I believe we have an obligation, both moral and pragmatic, to stabilize Iraq. I’m sure Kerry acknowledges Colin Powell’s "Pottery Barn rule:" We broke Iraq, now we own it, at least for a short while. I don’t have many answers for how the U.S. should extricate itself from Iraq, but I think about a couple of things: One, we probably need more troops on the ground, not fewer, for a short time. Two, simply internationalizing the peacekeeping force—taking the Stars and Stripes off, putting the UN logo on--will take a lot of the pressure off. Both these things seem to be part of Kerry’s plan, and the second one only a Kerry Administration can accomplish, since Bush is so vilified and discredited abroad.
Of course, Kerry is being deliberately vague about the details, and I may be guilty of wishful thinking and interpreting Kerry’s vagueness to my own liking. And I think Schell gets at an important truth: Many Democrats feel bound to campaign one way and govern another. That's an untenable situation, long-term.
This piece by Tom Engelhardt of the Nation Institute is well-done too. I ripped off the title of this post from him. I mean, one could dismiss it as more hand-wringing from the hardcore left, but I don’t. I’m cautiously optimistic about Kerry’s chances for victory in November, but 2005 holds plenty of challenges, for Kerry and the Democrats as a whole.