Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Chinks in Dodd’s Armor

A distinction may be made between the popularity of persons (non-transferable) and the popularity of positions and programs (transferable, sometimes).

President Barack Obama personality continues to resonate with many people, though there has been some slippage lately. His programs, largely radical, are iffier. Obama’s luster is not likely to rub off on Dodd; the disparities are too great. But there is no question Dodd has attached his fate to that of the Obama agenda: a highly regulated economy and the nationalization of heath care, to mention but two points.

Dodd’s fate is also connected to what might be called the wellness of his state; and, here again, the economic programs to which he has attached his political kite are doubtable, if not doubtful. Dodd has also shifted to the center in foreign policy, which is very odd in his case.

Dodd is not made of pro-war stuff – never has been. In economic policy, he has been in the past somewhat moderate. In the last few months, we have seen a paradigm shift in both these areas. Obama is now pursuing a Bush policy in Afghanistan, a part of the world that very well could be a quagmire for American troops. All these things are arguable since the fate of Afghanistan will depend upon facts on the ground that have yet to emerge.

What is not arguable is the paradigm shift on Dodd’s part: He has moved far to the left on domestic policy and to the center on current foreign policy.

Voters generally react negatively to sharp shifts and late conversions in politicians who have been in office a long time. In a politician of long standing, shifts of this kind are looked upon by the general public with a baleful eye and leave politicians open to damaging criticism from political opponents. These paradigm shifts place Dodd in a precarious position. He would be in even more trouble if Republicans could criticize him for his implicit support of the president’s “war of necessity” in Afghanistan.

Dodd was outspoken on the first Persian Gulf War, which he thought would be a quagmire resembling Vietnam. He was wrong. His anti-war posture was muted during Bush’s war in Iraq, until the president stumbled badly, at which point he and the loyal Democratic opposition in congress found their tongues.

In a statement in December 2007, Dodd pronounced the war in Iraq “a failure” and said clear bold action was necessary to end a war that had “made us less secure, more vulnerable and more isolated.” Dodd called for a “deadline to end the war tied to funding.” The time for giving Bush blank checks was over, Dodd said. He was strongly opposed to the Bush-Cheney troop surge. He advocated a surge in diplomacy, not troops, and agitated for a re-deployment to be completed within one year, by December 2008.

Obama won election on his promise to bring the troops out of Iraq shortly after he had become president. After much bumbling, Bush found his General Grant in General David Petraeus, and the general’s strategy has made the current troop withdrawals possible. The earlier withdrawals Dodd hankered after would have doomed the war effort in Iraq.

In the meanwhile, the eight-year Afghanistan war continues, and every argument used by progressives in their opposition to the war in Iraq applies as well to Afghanistan. Now that Obama is president, the anti-war opposition is in retreat among those members of congress who were only to happy to oppose Bush’s “war of choice.” It has been preserved, like a dried flower pressed in a bible, by Cindy Sheehan and a few other anti-war stalwarts.

The terrorist trials in New York are upcoming. Some commentators are suggesting that because the terrorists may not be able to find an unpolluted jury in New York, where the destruction of the Twin Towers are yet a vivid and painful memory, the trial should be moved to Connecticut. The terrorist trial featuring Kahlid Sheik Mohammed, the chief facilitator of 9/11 and the self confessed executioner of Daniel Pearl, may be viewed as a practical implementation of Dodd’s previous positions on how terrorists should be treated.

Dodd has long pressed for a Nuremberg stage upon which terrorists may be tried. The trials in New York even now are shaping up as classic show trials. Such was Nuremburg – with this difference: The German army had been defeated before the military tribunal commenced. Extremely mobile terrorists are still active, and a trial in a non-military court, in the course of which a terrorist who arranged the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York is to be invested with all the rights of a citizen of the United States, will be an invaluable recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. If the death penalty is imposed on Kahlid Sheik Mohammed during a non-military trial, it is likely that European countries that do not have the death penalty will not be willing to transfer for trial to the United States any terrorist taken in battle who may be executed for his “crimes.”

The final act of 9/11, which some consider certain to be a farce, still lies behind a drawn curtain. But few doubt that when it is brought on stage, it will affect the futures of politicians such as Dodd and others who have argued for the value of show trials in non-military courts for those whom previous presidents from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln would have considered unlawful combatants falling outside the conventions of war. The British did not hesitate to execute without trial Connecticut’s hero Nathan Hale, and Washington four years later did the same to Major Andre, according him a military trial and hanging him because, as the military board said, he had been found guilty of being behind American lines "under a feigned name and in a disguised habit." The conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination were tried by the military and executed after Grant had accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

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