Thursday, March 23, 2006

McEnroe to Lieberman: Who? Me?

It’s a little hard to determine who the initial aggressor is here, but the order of assaults might go something like this: 1) Lieberman ticked off leftist rabble rousers in his party by taking and defending a position on the Iraq war that deprived those thirsting for President George Bush’s blood of deadly talking points they might use to bring down the Bush administration; 2) the lefties rushed to their blog sites to condemn Lieberman as a traitor to his party and the human race; 3) Lieberman, threatened with a primary by Ned Lamont, a student of the Lowell Weicker Jr. school of political science, and besieged by unflattering notices on the blog sites – got ticked off; 4) Lieberman appeared on the Bruce and Colin radio talk show, where he responded to a recent Colin McEnroe rant by accusing the host of the show of – surprise! -- tendentious editing. A Lieberman quote used by McEnroe in one of his columns, Lieberman said, was “totally out of context. You might have gotten it from the bloggers, who love to do this”; and now 5) the whole of Connecticut’s political universe is singing in chorus – Is Joe losing it? Why so snippy? The inelegant proprietor of a blog site named “My Left Nutmeg” wrote, “Joe claims that he also calls on Repukes,” the Left Nutmeg’s standard name for Republicans, “to cut out their partisanship, but Joe the Repukes don't want to play fair. They never have and never will.”

Well, there are lots of reasons for short tempers, foremost among them: The war in Iraq is not going swimmingly. The richest, most accurate and nuanced recent commentary on Bush’s war may be found – where else? -- in a piece written for National Review by Rich Lowry, which introduces us to a new group of Iraq war oppositionists, the “To Hell With Them Hawks.” Lowry’s piece provoked an equally nuanced response from John Derbyshire. I do not have the time, inclination or energy to summarize either article here, but recommend both to people who are not barbaric yawpists. The barbaric yawpist would not be interested in either Lowry or Derbyshire because nothing they say can be reduced to fit on a political campaign lawn sign. McEnroe, whose political attention span is about 3 nanoseconds, would not be interested in either.

Called upon to address the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment Forum on the subject: “How to Win in Iraq,” it’s perfectly understandable that Lieberman did not wish to begin his remarks by saying, “We can win in Iraq by running up a white flag” – however much that remark would have been warmly received by extreme leftists in his party who would rather win a political battle even at the cost of losing an important war.

So, the first thing Lieberman said to the group was: You cannot win by losing, hardly a controversial or debatable proposition.

Lieberman put it this way: “The most important debate going on currently here about the war in Iraq is between some people who are focused on withdrawal of our forces regardless of conditions on the ground and the rest of us who believe that our goal in Iraq is not to withdraw but to win, so we can leave with the mission accomplished.”

Lieberman called upon the disputants to debate “in a spirit of mutual respect and national interest.” He quoted Dr. Krepinevich's observation that “The war (in Iraq), which arguably began as a ‘war of choice’ has become a ‘war of necessity’ we cannot afford to lose. The costs of victory in Iraq will be large for the U.S. But the costs of defeat would be disastrous for the U.S., Iraq, the Middle East, and most of the world.”

Now, there are very interesting disputes about all this. There is no dispute that the United States entered the war by choice. Many honorable Democrats and Republicans agree that the entry was compromised by faulty intelligence and an aggressive effort made by the Bush administration to convince congressmen and the American public that Saddam Hussein should be overthrown “because he possessed weapons of mass destruction” that in the past he had used to destroy the Kurds, among others. But a war of necessity does not become less necessary because a nation has chosen to enter the war on premises that later turn out to be false. If it was necessary to confront radical Islam and terrorists militarily someplace in the Middle East, that necessity does not disappear because it may be shown that the United States entered the war for a wrong reason. If the war is necessary for reasons unconnected with weapons of mass destruction – One may prosecute a war, after all, for two reasons … or more – its necessity does not disappear because one of the reasons has been shown to be faulty. And, of course, the consequences of abandoning a winnable are unconnected with the reasons one has entered it.

There are only two sufficient reasons for entering a war; 1) The war is necessary, and 2) The war is winnable. The debate on the Iraq war should center around these two points. If the war is necessary and winnable and the United States withdraws from the field, the consequences may be horrific. That is what Lieberman said in his forum discussion.

On his Hartford Courant blog site, To Wit, McEnroe quotes from Lieberman’s speech: “It is time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be Commander-in-Chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation’s peril … It is time for Republicans in the White House and Congress who distrust Democrats to acknowledge that greater Democratic involvement and support in the war in Iraq is critical to rebuilding the support of the American people that is essential to our success in that war.”

Then he provides he following gloss: “So...the first paragraph says: Democrats who don't like the president should shut up. The second paragraph says: Republicans should make more room at the table so Democrats can join them in supporting the war.”

Some concisions are distortions: These are brutalizations of Lieberman’s message.

Lieberman has not said that Democrats who dislike the president should shut up. His message is that in a discussion of this kind, where decisions entail fateful consequences, disputants should focus on those consequences. Lieberman’s remarks concerning the necessity of reaching agreement on goals during a time of war are so common as to be unremarkable. It was President Ulysses Grant who said that when the United States draws it sword, all tongues should fall silent. Lieberman would not agree with that sentiment; nor does he wish to gag McEnroe – as if that were possible. He may want McEnroe and his ilk to refocus their discussion and consider that the consequences of misdirection are sometimes fatal.

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