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Nothing Happened to Howard Dean

Conor Friedersdorf wonders what happened to Howard Dean:

He’s praising drone strikes and special ops because they’re less likely to attract the scrutiny and criticism from American citizens. It’s a position one doesn’t expect a prominent Iraq war dissenter to take — you’d think he of all people would understand that it’s vital for the American public to scrutinize the foreign policy decisions of its leaders regardless of the political party in power.

Conor reaches the conclusion that partisanship explains Dean’s support for the Libyan war, and that’s not entirely wrong, but it is possible to exaggerate the importance of partisanship here. As Scott Lemieux remarks, Dean was a Democratic “centrist” by reputation before he became the unlikely tribune of progressive antiwar sentiment. When he was still a presidential candidate, Dean made a point of saying that the real problem with invading Iraq was that the administration had ignored the “greater” threats from Iran and North Korea. Dean happened to oppose the Iraq war, but this was partly a matter of taking advantage of a political opening in a field dominated by pro-war candidates. Very much like Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war, it was an isolated judgment that seems to have nothing in common with the rest of his foreign policy thinking. When trying to understand the weaknesses and limits of the antiwar movement in America, a good place to start is the frequent habit it has of endorsing and backing candidates who happen to be aligned with that movement on one issue almost by accident.

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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