Kabuki: In a Good Way

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Mike Crowley derides the recent “are we safer?” contretemps as just so much kabuki:

I think nearly everyone would agree that we’re safer in some ways (we’re watching more closely) and less safe in others (people hate us even more), and that determing which way the scale tips is nearly impossible. What’s happening here seems more about center v. left, hawk v. dove politics. (That’s especially true when you consider that Edwards was saying the opposite thing back in 2004.)

To me, though, this is valuable kabuki. Bracketing for a moment the issue of Edwards reinvention of himself since 2004, we’re seeing one of several indications that Clinton’s aspiration on the politics of national security is to slice the salami as thinly as possible, whereas Obama and Edwards are both more eager for a direct assault. The implication of Clinton’s line is that whatever sort of mistake Iraq may have been, it obviously wasn’t that big a mistake, since it’s aggregate impact has been made up for by improved domestic security.

To me, the broader critique is much more politically promising (albeit somewhat riskier). It’s going to be difficult to hang narrow, implementation oriented critiques of Iraq on the leading GOP contenders. If you want to leverage the war’s unpopularity against Romney, McCain, or Giuliani you really need to level that attack at the level of concepts in which the war is a big, honking strategic error. Politics aside, this is also consistent with Crowley’s own observation that Clinton probably doesn’t want to apologize for Iraq because she’s not sorry; she’s sorry it’s turned out so poorly, but she thinks that’s personally the fault of George W. Bush and his key aides (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, Bremer, etc.) rather than the result of a major strategic error that she and I and John Edwards and many others also made.