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Contra Klein

In his blog Swampland, Time magazine’s Joe Klein writes that “We’ve seeing [sic] a fair amount of triumphalism from the usual suspects on the right about the situation on the ground in Iraq,” and he considers it to be “premature.” Klein then goes on to add this:

And yet: The reduction of violence is real. The defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq—sneezed at by some antiwar commentators—is nothing to sneeze at. The bottom-up efforts to reconcile Sunnis and Shiites across the scarred Anbar/Karbala provincial border, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, quite possibly reflect an Iraqi exhaustion with violence that has to be taken seriously as well. There is no question that the performance of the U.S. military has improved markedly under the smarter, more flexible, and creative leadership provided this year by General Petraeus. And the withdrawal of U.S. troops is beginning. The refusal of the antiwar movement—or some sections of it—to recognize these developments isn’t helping its credibility.

Klein continues:

Let me reassert the obvious here: The war in Iraq has been a disaster, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President. It has weakened America’s moral, military, and diplomatic status globally. It cannot be “won” militarily. The best case scenario is a testy stability, most likely under a Shiite strongman, who will be (relatively) independent of Iran and (relatively) independent of us. . .

There are fewer votes now in Congress—and less cause—to cut off funding for the war than there were last Spring. A renewed campaign on the part of the hapless Democratic leadership to cut off the supplemental funds will only increase the public sense of Democratic futility. It will also play into the very real, and growing, public perception that Democrats are too busy wasting time on symbolic measures (like trying to cut off funds for the war) and shoveling pork (the water projects bill) to pass anything substantive for the public good. Too much time, and political capital, has been wasted fighting Bush legislatively on the war. I’m sure the President and the Republican Party are salivating over the prospect that Democrats will waste more time and capital over it this month . . . especially at a moment, however fleeting, when the situation on the ground seems to have improved in Iraq. Democrats need to think this over very, very carefully before they proceed.

I have several thoughts in response to Klein’s comments. The first is that if the war in Iraq has been “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President,” then you wonder why Joe supported it before the war. Here’s what Klein told Tim Russert on his CNBC program on February 22, 2003:

This is a really tough decision. War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it—it’s—it—it probably is…. [Saddam] has been defying the world for twelve years. It is very clear—I mean, I—I—I haven’t found anybody who doesn’t believe that he’s hiding stuff there. And if there’s going to be a civilized world order, the—the world has to be able to act on its—you know, on—on—on its agreements. And—and there have been now seventeen UN resolutions calling on this guy to disarm, a—something that he agreed to do, and at certain—at a certain point, you have to enforce it.

Now you can quibble with the fact, you can argue with the fact that the Bush administration forced this judgment at this time in this way, but I think—and—but I—but I do believe that it was Bill Clinton’s moral responsibility and responsibility as leader of the country to do it in 1998, as we—as we were saying before. And—and I think that now that we’ve reached this point, where the inspectors are in and it has become absolutely manifestly clear that he’s not going to abide by this—you know, just look at his behavior in the days since the peace protests. All of a sudden, you know, he’s—he’s—you know, he’s defiant again. So I think that, you know, the—the message has to be sent because if it isn’t sent now, if we don’t do this now, it empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.

I wonder, then: Does Klein’s statement on Russert’s show therefore qualify as the stupidest endorsement of the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American President? In any event, at least President Bush didn’t pretend (as Klein has) that he was against the war after he was for the war.

More important, though, is that Klein, a ferocious critic of the war and the President, is willing to concede that progress is real. He has documented that progress in his reporting, for which he deserves credit.

Obviously “triumphalism” is premature—Iraq remains a very complicated and difficult situation, progress that’s been made can be lost, and the outcome is still uncertain—but it shows that the good news is breaking through and is now undeniable. For example, we read in the Washington Times today that U.S. military fatalities are down from 101 in June to 39 in October; that Iraqi civilian deaths were also down from 1,791 in August to 750 in October; that mortar rocket attacks by insurgents in October were the lowest since February 2006; and that according to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni fighters in Baghdad has dropped 77 percent from last year’s high.

Klein, an excellent political reporter, is also correct in warning Democrats against trying to force the President to pull out prematurely. The Washington Post today reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “declared that Bush will not get more money to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year unless he accepts a plan to complete troop withdrawals by the end of next year.”

This approach by Senator Reid is reckless and will be injurious politically. While the trajectory of events in Iraq is (finally) getting better, and in some important respects events are getting significantly better, Democrats are redoubling their efforts to pursue a policy that can only undermine progress and our chances of success.

This tells us all we need to know about the leadership of the modern Democratic Party. That of FDR, Truman, or JFK it ain’t.

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