Friday, December 19, 2003

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Dean under fire

Howard Dean is catching all kinds of hell this week, in large part for a churlish line in his foreign policy speech that I didn't mention in my own critique: "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

TNR Bush-hater Jonathan Chait how has an anyone-but-Dean blog. Andrew Sullivan links to two examples: Spinsanity and the Washington Post. Here's an excerpt from the latter:

[T]here are important differences between the Democratic front-runner, Howard Dean, and the other five [prominent Democrats]. In his speech Monday, Mr. Dean alone portrayed the recruiting of allies for Iraq as a means to "relieve the burden on the U.S." -- that is, to quickly draw down American forces. Only he omitted democracy from his goals for Iraq and the Middle East. And only Mr. Dean made the extraordinary argument that the capture of Saddam Hussein "has not made Americans safer."

Mr. Dean's carefully prepared speech was described as a move toward the center, but in key ways it shifted him farther from the mainstream. A year ago Mr. Dean told a television audience that "there's no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States and to our allies," but last weekend he declared that "I never said Saddam was a danger to the United States." Mr. Dean has at times argued that the United States must remain engaged to bring democracy to Iraq, yet the word is conspicuously omitted from the formula of "stable self-government" he now proposes. The former Vermont governor has compiled a disturbing record of misstatements and contradictions on foreign policy; maybe he will shift yet again, this time toward more responsible positions.

Now Michael Kinsley goes after him as well:

Howard Dean's comments this week offer both a negative and a positive case study. He broke the most obvious rule: Pretend, at least, that you're enjoying the party. Don't stint or quibble.

Looks bad for Dean... or does it?

This is not the first time Dean has put his foot in his mouth and lived to tell the tale. None of the Dean's campaign's comparative advantages are really threatened by this latest blunder. It's already clear that DC Democrats loathe and fear Dean -- to his base, however, this is just feeding the beast.

If anything, the hope these criticisms offer to the rest of the Democratic field merely increases the likelihood that all of them will stay in the race, splintering the anyone-but-Dean vote and letting him win by plurality. That, plus some key endorsements, should erase this talk of third parties.

posted by Dan on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM


Howard Dean will still win the nomination. The crazies are in control. The more moderate Democrats are finally realizing that they must fight for the soul of their party. Beating President George W. Bush in 2004 is now tacitly a secondary goal.

Dean can say just about anything dumb and his fervent supporters will still back him. Hating Bush has destroyed their ability to think and follow a logical argument. They are like raving madmen howling at the full moon.

posted by: David Thomson on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Of course, we haven't had a primary or the Iowa caucuses yet, so this is all interesting speculation but worth what we're paying for it. I would only think that for a major political party to lose reality focus and lose mainstream relevance would be something analogous to the repudiation of the Federalists in the early 19th century, and something that hasn't happened often in the US. The Dems had a long losing streak between Cleveland and Wilson, but they came back (in part because Teddy Roosevelt made E.H.Harriman angry and caused the Harriman family to put its money to the Democrates).

My bet is that reports of the death are greatly exaggerated.

posted by: John Bruce on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

I'm a little confused on how it has made us safer. He was not in danger of returning to power in Iraq. If he were still in power, he was a possible future danger, but not a present one. I saw a poll somewhere saying that a majority of Americans don't believe his capture reduces the threat of terrorism, the problem to which Bush links him. The capture of Saddam may or may not lessen the resistance, which would make American troops safer, but that's about it. Why is this quote so controversial?

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

I concur, Brian. In the spring of 2001, Colin Powell said that Saddam was successfully contained and too weak to be a threat to his neighbors, so I don't see how he could have been a threat to us.

posted by: Melanie on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

I have to agree with Brian. It may have been a politically stupid thing to say, but I don't see how it's incorrect. I feel the same way about many of Dean's previous foot-in-mouth moments.

For Dems who just want someone who can win, then Dean's propensity for saying silly things may be too much to take (although I can't see how the other candidates' blandness or unwillingness to stand up to Bush's rhetorical fudging wins them any points in the win-capable column, either), but for idealists who want a candidate they connect with, Dean is as great as ever.

posted by: David Adams on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

"It's already clear that DC Democrats loathe and fear Dean"

Unless I've been in Chicago long enough for my Inside-The-Beltway cred to be revoked, I'd say some DC Dems loathe and fear Dean. Some are starting to realize that he's the closest to having the juice to beat Bush. True, he could shoot his mouth off, which is what DC (Beltway) Dems like myself are afraid of; but it's a gamble. There are the safer three-of-a-kind workaday candidates, whereas Dean is the inside straight. Dean is the go-for-broke candidate, and I fear that's what the Dems need to beat Bush, and draw back in the left wing of the party. Unfortunately (for the "New [Clinton] Democrats" -cf. Stilgitz,) there's not a viable (in my mind) Center-Left Dem candidate (although Dean might start trying to look like one post-primary.) Following a different line of argument, it's entirely possible that Dean supporters will forgive his blunders the way Bush was easily forgiven last election-time. [Before you say it: Yeah, Dean's blunders are probably bigger, but the same principle of absolution applies.]

posted by: Philip J. Brinkman on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Well, OK, Howard, But X X's (help me here, Oldman) article in last week's Weekly Standard has it best:

Says Dick G of the Dean 'faithful' in the party, "How many of these people can their be?"

As Dan would say; "Indeed"

posted by: TommyG on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

It is either a statement that is hard to make a case for or easier to make a case for (I disagree with both, but that's by the by), depending on what set of circumstances the situation of being captured is compared to. Safer with Saddam being captured compared to (1) in charge of Iraq and in control of all its resources, as before the war, or (2) after the war and on the run? You could make a case for #2 without being crazy. I think a some people jumping on Dean's statement presume (or assert) he means #1.

posted by: BobM on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Hey, capturing Hussein sure ain't bad for Iraqis. But how, exactly, does it make *America* safer?

It doesn't, that's how.

What's stupid about pointing out the truth? It's only stupid if you believe the propaganda coming out of the WH and the SCLM that capturing Saddam Hussein is the greatest thing to happen since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

It's only stupid if we all shut up and grin and nod like dashboard doggies and agree that capturing Hussein makes America safer because then we won't remember or care that none of the imminent threats he allegedly posed to America were based on anything but lies.

If we agree that America is safer now that Hussein's been captured, then we're agreeing that he posed a threat to America and the war was not, after all, based on lies.

But he wasn't. And it was.

posted by: Ciel on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

I like Kinsley, but I can't tell here if he's saying Dean has made an error or a gaffe. A gaffe, as you recall, is what Kinsley himself brilliantly defined as when a politician tells a vote-losing truth.

As far as Saddam's capture, Dean is probably right on. Unless Saddam was coordinating the resistance, the benefit to American soldiers in Iraq is small, and since there is no evidence that Saddam had anything to do with 9/11 or Al Qaeda, the threat to American cirizens was zero to begin with. We'll find out about the former long before the election, seeing if Iraq repeats the Israeli pattern of a few weeks grace after tactical disruption (say, four to six) before terrorist cells regroup. Saddam's capture doesn't change the fact we have half as many troops on the ground per capita as in Kosovo, and failed-state reconstruction experts say it simply isn't adequate.

As far as the Dean phenomenon, it's too bad Dan didn't also quote Kinsley's positive remarks:

On the other hand, Dean won points in my book for another bit of straight talk. After calling Saddam's capture "a great day" for the military, for Iraqis, and for Americans generally, he added that it was "frankly, a great day for the administration." This is a rare example of a politician saying "frankly" and then saying something actually frank.
I think this shows some of the personality traits that make Dean a good horse for Democrats to back. I'd say Mr Brinkman above captures that, in a way, and I agree with his post except for the suggestion that Bush's blunders were worse than Dean's. (Actually, what look like Bush's blunders, such as his promise to keep the budget in surplus, now look in retrospect more like deceptions.)

posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

> Hey, capturing Hussein sure ain't bad
> for Iraqis. But how, exactly, does it
> make *America* safer?
> It doesn't, that's how.

An amazingly narrow view; dangerously so.
Someone else I read regularly had a comment on this, this morning:

'Saddam didn't have to be "personally involved" in order to be an instrumental threat to the United States: he would use something like Al Qaeda, and they would just as happily use him."

In any event, there's this concept: How can someone who is willing to kill off multiple millions, including his own people, not be a danger to anyone drawing breath?

Dean, as has been pointed out, will likely win the Democrt nod. And htat suits me just fine; he will likely be the easiest of any of them to defat, though few other than perhaps Lieberman in the end would give Mr. Bush much trouble in the general election.

But notice; That will be because Lieberman has the advantage over Dean, that unlike Dean, he understands the very real threat Saddam posed, and the threat we are still under.

Trouble is, it's that very grasp of reality that won't let him by the Democrat primaries. The Democrat rank and file seem to try to avoid reality, these last 20 years or so.

posted by: Bithead on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

*In any event, there's this concept: How can someone who is willing to kill off multiple millions, including his own people, not be a danger to anyone drawing breath?*

Facsinating concept. I take it that means the murderous thugs of Sierre Leone are next on the list of Tyrants to Be Forcibly Retired by US Armed Might?

Whereas Saudi Arabia, which does not murder its own people by the millions, but did lend aid to the terrorist organization actually responsible for the 9/11 attacks, can consider itself safe from armed intervention?

posted by: Ciel on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

"In any event, there's this concept: How can someone who is willing to kill off multiple millions, including his own people, not be a danger to anyone drawing breath?"

Right... but if you extend this indefinitely it applies to many countries, and a few well-known ones much better.

I seem to recall this much highlighted 'gaffe' as coming right before he mentions OBL/Al Queda, proliferation from former USSR, N.Korea and Iran. In other words, fine this may theoretically make us safer at some point in the future, but these three elephants in the room are way more of a threat to us at the moment.

Of course an idea of more than one sentence or thought rarely makes it into the spotlight -- maybe he needs to learn to condense/soundbite better.

And it seems the criticism is referring to the _capture_ of SH, not his general removal from power. It seems pretty clear he wasn't all that involved in highly detailed tactical planning, and attacks haven't stopped, so saying this drastically reduced our danger seems naive and unfounded.

posted by: TG on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Dean saying that America is not safer after the capture of Saddam is really just a make-believe blunder. As the NY Times polls show today, Americans basically agree with this. The weirdest attack on Dean's statement came in an otherwise cohesive piece by Robert Kagan in today's Post. He had a good analysis of how and why support for the war in Iraq is so high and that this is unrelated and unaltered by the capture of Saddam. He then concludes by saying that "A landslide's worth of Americans don't agree [with Dean's statement]" I guess logical consistency is no requirement for being published in the Post if you are Robert Kagan (who I mostly like as an author).

posted by: zaoem on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Well, John Glenn said the same thing, & he's not a nut job (is he?).

Tho a better question is, not "are we safer with Saddam captured?" but rather the big-picture question that made the 1st question an issue: "are we safer for having invaded Iraq?" I continue to think "no." Putting that effort into securing Afghanistan & developing our global extirpation of al-Qaeda would've made us much safer.

posted by: Andy on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

>I take it that means the murderous thugs of >Sierre Leone are next on the list of Tyrants to >Be Forcibly Retired by US Armed Might?

This question/statement seems to operate form the idea that this is the only consideration. I think we're going to find that IRaq was not operating in a vaccum, particularly WRT AlQuieda.

And certainly, the Saddam's UN defiance tipped the balance against him, as well. Are you aware, for example, of years of ignoring UN resolutions in Sierre Leone's case?

posted by: Bithead on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

No, my comment springs from the idea that deciding to send one's soldiers off to war is serious business and one that should be undertaken with a soupcon of honesty and integrity.

There was nothing honest about sending our soldiers to Iraq. The rationale changed with the phases of the moon. Conservative dittoheads obediently retrofitted their memories and political theories to accommodate each change.

Bush sent our kids to die and still hasn't told the truth about why. That is despicable. That conservatives see nothing at all wrong with this is equally so.

posted by: Ciel on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Wow, lots of levelheaded comments here today... Saddam was irrelevant to the safety of the US.

Secondly, Iraq seems to be a much less safe place after Saddam than before. It's going to take more than getting rid of Saddam, we're going to have to do better than he did. And so far we haven't.

Unemployment is way up and services are way down. Crime is way up. Killings by the authority are way up. Saddam was not committing genocide in the leadup to war, and may not have committed genocide at all.(1) The USA killed thousands in the war and is killing quite a few hundred per month.(2)

I know I know, I'm taking Saddam's side... too bad. The Iraqis are going to compare without all the red white and blue we use here. If they consider the occupation to be less safe than Saddam, what do you think they're going to do? Reject it. Will that be safer for us?

Has Blair Sexed Up Saddam's Atrocities, Too?
by John Laughland
The Mail on Sunday


posted by: wellbasically on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]


I find your comments curiously lacking in historical context. FDR, the great Democrat (no irony intended) was at least as misleading, and likely far more so, regarding U.S. assistance to the U.K. and to China prior to World War II, when large segments of the population were isolationist and hostile to "foreign entanglements." It was only after Pearl Harbor, and more than three years of covert and increasingly overt assistance to the Allied Powers, that the U.S. declared war and the great bulk of the population got behind the war. Read Studs Terkel's "The Good War" for many fascinating stories in this regard.

posted by: Daniel Calto on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

FDR was right to go to war. It was a world-wide war between democratic capitalism, democratic socialism and democratic fascism.

Saddam didn't represent anything except Iraqi nationalism. Baathism has been expanded by the warmongers to fascism-size for PR, and for the self-image of the Stephen Ambrose crowd. It's sad that the only history America shares is a kindergarten story of a war from 50 years ago, but that's the culture we have to play in.

posted by: wellbasically on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Anyway it would have been better if there had been no Depression and no war. But then no Greatest Generation! Where would we be without those geezers and their admirers? Sometimes I think those guys are happier that the war and the holocaust happened because it gave some purpose to their previously empty lives. Not unlike the Hitchenses of today.

posted by: wellbasically on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

It might be fun to run a Nexus search on all public officials and pundits now minimizing the capture of Saddam to see how many times they used the fact of his not being caught to criticize the current policy. If his freedom was important then, his captivity is important now. His removal from office and subsequent capture has resulted in--Iran signing an inspection treaty for it's nuclear program and Libya agreeing to dismantle it's WMDs. Anyone who now claims Saddam's capture doesn't contribute to our security want to bet that N. Korea won't come around? -- I didn't think so.

posted by: Rocketman on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Iraq seems to be a much less safe place after Saddam than before.

Only if you don't count the million dead in his wars and mass graves. Somehow I doubt that post-Saddam Iraq will run up quite the body count that Saddam did.

The statement that America is no safer with Saddam behind bars is only true if you maintain a very, very narrow focus. Sure, he wasn't personally a threat to anyone living in the US, but we are playing on a little bigger stage, here. I suppose, by the same reasoning, that America was no safer the moment after Hitler committed suicide than it was the moment before he committed suicide.

Someone who cannot see a bigger picture than that is fundamentally unsuited to be President of the US. Dean will take a beating for his statement, and rightly so.

I am curious, too, that the people denigrating the capture of Hussein are in many cases the same people who, the day before, held up his ongoing freedom as a major failure of our Iraq policy.

Jest keep those goalposts moving.

posted by: R C Dean on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Many of the above posts largely (but not exclusively) argue that America is no safer with the capture of Saddam, basing this on the notion that the reasons for going to war, were in fact lies (see Ciel). Not just that there may have been reasonable differences in the weight and accuracy of prewar Intel, or the exact status of WMD's (their existence was historically never in doubt), or the morality in waging war to depose a leader whose regime is responsible for a million or more cruel and ghastly deaths, rapes, and mutilations, but that all reasons posited by W. and his administration for such a complex endeavor were out-and-out lies.

To those who hold fast to such a notion, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Dean is speaking the truth.

Furthermore, some of the above have argued there are other terror regimes that should therefore be targeted. While this may be true, it does not in any way diminish the facts of Saddam's butchery, or the moral imperative for his removal from power.

As a lifelong Democrat, I can only shake my head at the disastrous course the party is taking, and the certainty of defeat come next November.

posted by: dogsbythesea on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]


"Someone else I read regularly had a comment on this, this morning:
'Saddam didn't have to be "personally involved" in order to be an instrumental threat to the United States: he would use something like Al Qaeda, and they would just as happily use him.""

Are you serious? Saddam was well known to lock up or kill anyone who crossed h/her eyes at the wrong time--why would he ever trust people who were well known to hate his guts? Giving WMD to al Qeada would be the very, very, very last thing he would do. He didn't trust anybody. Probably rightly so.

The only way al Qeada would be able to get WMD from Saddam is if an incompetant invader left the weapons dumps that also contained the WMD unguarded--oops, maybe we did.

posted by: Jon Stopa on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

"the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

Just for the record that Tom Ridge (spell?) thinks like Dean and increased the Homeland Security code.

posted by: GBB on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Much of Saddam's remaining power was symbolic. This is not the same as saying it was negligible. Most of the attacks on American soldiers are largely symbolic, in that they are not meant to take back acreage or institutions of control. There was an underestimate as to how safe America was when Saddam was at large. There is probably an overestimate as to how much safer we are with him captured. But to claim we are NO safer? That's nuts. Extend the principle. If we capture, say, our top 20 enemies in Iraq, top 20 in Iran, top 20 in Syria, Saudi, Yemen, Pakistan, etc, would people believe the net result is that we are no safer? The capture of Hussein isn't everything. But to conclude thereby that it is nothing is simply blinkered. There seems to be an unnoticed elephant in the Democrats living room.

posted by: Assistant Village Idiot on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

For all the people who have forgotten why we went to war - it's pretty simple. Here it is -

I am glad some countries had the courage of their UN convictions. Most Iraqis are glad too. I wonder how Dean would feel if he was an Iraqi?

Remember the useless UN allowed many, many Iraqis to die under sanctions which achieved nothing.....except "containment."

Some containment.

posted by: Warmonger on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

Concerning the Dean comment that Saddam's capture doesn't make Americans any safer:
It's not relevant whether or not it is correct; what is relevant is that it came after months of Democrats glorying in the fact that we hadn't fuond Osama/Saddam. Either his capture was important, or it wasn't. Dean's comment looks like more Democrat talking out of both sides of their mouth.
One more reason why we can't trust them with foreign policy.

posted by: Gary Thomas on 12.19.03 at 11:11 AM [permalink]

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