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“Centrism” Rears Its Ugly Head Again

Until this week I thought we were entering the last stages of the Iraq war.  Roughly 40 percent to 60 percent of Republican senators have privately given up on the war. Senior G.O.P. officials have told President Bush that they are unwilling to see their party destroyed by this issue. ~David Brooks

The latter have a funny way of showing their unwillingness.  Had these officials actually been unwilling to let this happen at a time when their unwillingness might have counted for something, they could have started impressing on Mr. Bush and the Congressional GOP that the war was breaking the party last year or even the year before.  This was already happening, but it was vehemently denied by the “we are winning” crowd.  However, as far as much of the GOP was concerned, 2005 was the year of purple thumbs and impending victory (not to mention all those Iraqi cell phone users) and 2006 was an election year where it usually did not do to campaign against the President (even if few wanted him to campaign on their behalf).  Now that they are faced with the equivalent of either Stevensonian failure or Wilsonian meltdown, no wonder these officials have become so “unwilling.”  Last year, the official party message was that the public was not against the war, but the mismanagement of the war.  The official line was that a Democratic majority that pushed for the end of the war would be repudiated by The Land Formerly Known As Bush Country.  Last year party officials were certainly anxious about the war, but most didn’t actually believe that the war would destroy the GOP.  They also believed that they would suffer only a mild rebuke at the polls (and there were more than a few people who cited the 1998 elections, in which Democrats unusually gained seats, as the model they half-expected 2006 to follow).  They have not had a good track record recently.

This other figure on Republican Senators is a bit surprising to me, since I’m pretty sure only about 30% of the Senate GOP (no more than maybe 14 members) has given any real indication of dissatisfaction with the administration’s current plan.  They are so few that you can remember them all by name: Warner, Voinovich, Lugar, Hagel, Collins, Snowe, Coleman, Bennett, Smith, Domenici, Alexander, Gregg, Sununu, and (if you are really generous) Brownback.  It seems bizarre to me to give up privately on a war and then go through all the motions and give the speeches required to keep the same war going.  The upper limit of this figure means that for every one Republican Senator speaking out against the current plan and in favour of the ISG recommendations, there could be one who believes more or less the same things but refuses to declare his position.

One reason why there is a “deadlock,” as Brooks puts it, is that the 60 or so members who support redeployment and the ISG report occupy a position that essentially favours the continuation of the war for an indeterminate period of time.  They represent a distinct, but not significantly different, position from the “surge”-supporting McLiebermanites to the extent that they accept every bit of conventional wisdom about Iraq (beginning with the story that “we have vital interests there” and getting worse from there) and actually provide enormous political cover for the “surge” supporters by advancing an argument that the U.S. presence in Iraq must continue in some form.  By disagreeing simply over the how and the where of this continuation of our presence, the “centrist” and “realist” position–which, in my opinion, is neither of these things–effectively empowers the most vehement war supporters to continue in the current course, since the latter can continue to argue that their approach is the better method.  Lacking any substantive disagreement about the importance of Iraq to U.S. interests and in the absence of an alternative that does not revert back to a 2006-style priority of force protection (i.e., the very kind of deployment some of these same people were criticising for its failure to provide security for Iraqis), this ISG-loving “centrism” is in its way as bad and objectionable as the “comprehensive reform” “centrism” was when it came to immigration.  As with the immigration bill, Iraq “centrism” is obnoxious and unsuccessful because it combines what might be called the worst of both worlds: it offers no chance of resolving any of the things that the “surge” is also failing to resolve, but neither does it offer a way out of Iraq for our soldiers.  Instead of “going long” or “going home” (which are, to my mind, the only coherent positions available) this muddled middle embraces “going round and round.”  That the “centrists” on either side of the aisle cannot even manage to work together on their pointless agenda adds just the perfect touch of incompetence.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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