Burying the War

I find the continuing efforts to minimize the significance of the Iraq War debate in recent political events somewhat baffling. The very sharp Derek Chollet, for example, observes that progressives seem to be largely over the bitter feuds over national security policy that were so predominant five years ago. But rather than attribute this, correctly, to the marginalization of the Iraq Hawk mentality we’re told that “this consensus is not built on the worldviews of the old left or the liberal blogosphere” and that “[a]lthough strong critics of the Iraq War, Obama and Biden are hardly doves — they have called for doing more to end the genocide in Darfur and have advocated the use of force to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.”

This only makes sense if you take the liberal blogosphere as having been pushing a policy of blanket pacifism and think that the most agonizing debate inside the Democratic Party in recent years was over whether or not killing Osama bin Laden would be desirable. Clearly, though, the big debate was about Iraq; back in 2003, Will Marshall was arguing that Iraq War opponents like Howard Dean represented a waning current of “McGovernism”. And in November 2002, Peter Beinart warned that if Democrats embraced Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to the Iraq War they would “be in a kind of McGovernite wilderness for a generation.”

Now from the perspective of 2008, Pelosi led to Democrats capturing a House majority that they’re now regarded as all-but-certain to expand. Dean lost the primary to John Kerry, who soon after losing a general election admitted that Dean had been right about Iraq after all, and now he’s Chair of the DNC and the Democratic brand has never been stronger. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton managed to lose a primary despite daunting advantages to an opponent who almost certainly wouldn’t have even been in the race had she opposed the war. I wouldn’t want to suggest that Obama (Pelosi or Dean) was or is getting his foreign policy ideas from “the liberal blogosphere” — but he seems to be getting them from a group of foreign policy experts that disproportionately draws from the pool of people who, like him, never thought that a unilateral preventive war with Iraq was an appropriate response to 9/11.

It’s true that the progressive community is now largely united on these questions, but that’s because the vast majority of progressives have come around to the view that Iraq was a mistake that we need to bring to an end not because people decided we need to tune out bloggers.