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Works and Days

War and Politics

May 14th, 2008 - 10:24 pm

Democratic what?

The Republicans, no doubt, get what they deserve, given the out-of-control federal spending the last few years, the corruption and sex scandals in the Congress, and the inability to articulate a conservative message.

That said, the current Democratic Party is nothing like what I remember my parents and grandparents belonged to. The latest Farm Bill is welfare for the wealthy. The restrictions on energy exploration and production are boutique—and hurt the working classes, who can’t wait for hydrogen cars and solar houses while they drive the 10-year-old Chevy truck to work at $4 a gallon.

Democratic populism is an oxymoron these days, something like multimillionaire John Edwards in blue jeans on his way to his mansion, or John Kerry in duck-hunting garb, or Michelle Obama and those oppressive Ivy League loans that have to be paid back and no doubt cut into the meager $20,000 annual donations to the pulpit of Rev. Wright.

What I miss most about the old Democratic Party was its “can-do” energy. Here one thinks of Pat Brown building California highways and universities, or a Harry Truman setting up the ambitious policy of containment, or the soaring rhetoric and tax cuts of JFK. After that it was mostly ‘how do we divide up the pie’ rather than ‘how we create a bigger pie.’ And for ‘damn it, we are all going to get along, and stand together or hang together’ we got ‘you and you and you can all have your hyphenated-names, set-asides, and tribal spaces.”

Populism

The last two weeks in speaking in various places I have had dinner with a few of what I would call “elite” Democrats. I was struck how in conversation one hears about Johnny going to Stanford, Jane to the Peace Corps after Princeton, the private clubs, the parties where the local grandee and the regional magnifico were present—all chit-chat sandwiched in between a sort of radical socialist hymn to Barack Obama. The point? That the people in question lived lives that were not merely not harmonious with their abstract world views of a radical egalitarianism by result, but downright antithetical to them—without a hint of the contradictions.

When a privileged wealthy liberal elite goes on about unfairness in between name-dropping and snobbery it achieves the same effect as the evangelical moralist talking about loose women or going to the bar for his fifth cocktail.

Quiet in Iraq

There are two keys to stabilizing Iraq—getting a Shiite-dominated government to turn on Shiite militias backed by Iran, and doing so in such a fashion to lure the Sunnis back into the government that will ensure regional support and a continuance of the Anbar Awakening and coalition against al-Qaeda.

Both seem to be happening in major campaigns in Basra, Mosul and Sadr City. And yet in the midst of these operations, American fatalities at the half-way point in May (it could change next hour) are, by the standard of past months, low. Something is going on in Iraq, and the U.S. military and its Iraqi allies are on the verge of achieving a radical reconfiguration of the theater—to the silence of the media.

I talked for about an hour with Dave Petraeus last October in Baghdad. One thing struck me: at the time in Washington it was fashionable for almost everyone (especially Senate Democrats) to damn the Maliki government for its incompetence and biases. But while acknowledging problems (that caused him problems), Petraeus was almost alone optimistic in his support for the elected government, the take-over process of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the eventual ability of the government to deal with the Shiite militias. “They’ll make it” is what I remember him saying.

Given the campaign hype, we haven’t heard much about Petraeus lately, but already he has achieved an amazing turn-about, not just in the military sense, but in the cultural and political sphere of giving confidence to the Iraqis, prompting them to take over their own security, and in a manner that assures them of our support even as we plan to slowly disengage.

If he pulls this off, I think his place is assured among the very great generals in our history. In his appreciation of the role of public opinion, politics and perceptions of war, he resembles Sherman; Marshall in his efforts to reform the military and promote a new sort of officer; and Ridgway in his ability by personal leadership to turn around an entire front. I think he is a rare talent, and as often happens in American history, we were given a great gift by his command—and none too soon.

Such things can happen very quickly in American history. In late 1861 Sherman was in self-imposed exile, melancholy and without a command, by December 1864 he was a legend. Grant by late April 1862 was all but finished, by July 1863 a genius. And so on…

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