Friday, August 31, 2007

Irreconcilable Differences? Taking Sides on Iraq

As any political blogger worth his salt knows, when talking about the Iraq war, it's not easy to convince the other side of the rightness of your cause. Political opponents disagree vehemently. They talk past each other, unable to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences. Political demonization becomes de rigueur.

In her Wall Street Journal essay today, Peggy Noonan addresses this issue as a national dilemma. She notes that, sure, there's progress in Iraq, but it's not like Iraq constitutes a unitary state; and she rightly warns that prospects for Iraqi political reconciliation are bleak.

Noonan provides a pragmatic interpretation of the situation:

All sides in the Iraq debate need to step up, in a new way, to the characterological plate.

From the pro-war forces, the surge supporters and those who supported the Iraq invasion from the beginning, what is needed is a new modesty of approach, a willingness to admit it hasn't quite gone according to plan. A moral humility. Not meekness--great powers aren't helped by meekness--but maturity, a shown respect for the convictions of others.

What we often see instead, lately, is the last refuge of the adolescent: defiance. An attitude of Oh yeah? We're Lincoln, you're McClellan. We care about the troops and you don't. We care about the good Iraqis who cast their lot with us. You'd just as soon they hang from the skids of the last helicopter off the embassy roof. They have been called thuggish. Is this wholly unfair?

The antiwar forces, the surge opponents, the "I was against it from the beginning" people are, some of them, indulging in grim, and mindless, triumphalism. They show a smirk of pleasure at bad news that has been brought by the other team. Some have a terrible quaking fear that something good might happen in Iraq, that the situation might be redeemed. Their great interest is that Bushism be laid low and the president humiliated. They make lists of those who supported Iraq and who must be read out of polite society. Might these attitudes be called thuggish also?

Do you ever get the feeling that at this point Washington is run by two rival gangs that have a great deal in common with each other, including an essential lack of interest in the well-being of the turf on which they fight?
But Noonan reaches past her pragmatism to take slaps at the administration. On the one hand she calls for "maturity" among all sides in the debate, while on the other excoriates President Bush for his failure to "calm the waters" among rival domestic audiences.

But wait!

Then she says Bush is right on Iraq after all, but it'd be best if he were "graceful" and "humble" in advocating his position! Not only that, perhaps the White House ought to ask for some help on the issue. Okay, but from whom? Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid?

Yeah, right!

I always enjoy Noonan's cool detachment and considerable wisdom. Sometimes, though, it takes a steely resolve to really meet one's objectives. I think Bush is right to stare down his domestic opponents - the president's one of the only officials in Washington who continues to understand the stakes of our mission.

We're doing better in Iraq now because we didn't cut and run amid all the defeatist blather this last few years. I'm not so sure that being more "graceful" toward implacable opponents will help the mission. And I certainly don't see so much grace
among those fanatically opposed to any hint of successs on the ground.

Pragmatic politics may be recommended at times, but with the current partisan emotions roiling hot and heavy over the war, I doubt the present time is one of those occasions.

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