I completely agree with the dread DC Establishment that calling General Petraeus “General Betrayus” was dumb. That said, I’m staggered by the amount of emphasis that people inside this town are placing on this. One virtue of having moved to the Beltway is that I can tell you, the reader, a thing or to about the mood here and that while you might think the reverse is true, the truth of the matter is that the left-of-center establishment is being restrained in terms of expressing its absolutely fury at MoveOn over this. People seem to really think that this was not merely a misstep, but a huge blunder of world-historical proportions.
As best I can tell, it’s all basically bullshit. The whole fracas of Petraeus, Crocker, MoveOn, etc. has had, to a good first approximation, no impact whatsoever on anything of any significance. Bush continues to be stubborn. Republicans continue to back Bush. The war continues to go poorly and continues to be unpopular. There was nothing else that ever could have happened. A bunch of editors and politicians talked themselves into believing that this September showdown was crucially significant, but they were all wrong and their theory never made any sense.
The only showdown that mattered happened months ago. Democrats passed a war appropriation that funded the phased withdrawal of troops. Bush vetoed that appropriation and said he would only sign an appropriation that funded open-ended war. Bush sought to portray a congressional refusal to appropriate money for an open-ended military involvement in Iraq as some kind of plot to leave the troops starving and without bullets in Iraq. The press largely bought into this frame, which was re-enforced by the fact that many leading Democrats immediately decided to buy into as well. The party then decided not to try to fight to reframe the issue but, instead, to accept it. Given that framing of the question, the only thing to do was surrender and give Bush his money. And given that precedent, the only thing to do is to keep on surrendering any time Bush rhetorically holds the troops’ well-being hostage to his preference for perpetual war.
That was a blunder — a decision that condemned hundreds of Americans to die in Iraq — and one that appears to have resulted from a total failure of the leadership to do any advance planning about their legislative tactics. All of September 2007 has been a meaningless sideshow. People find it comforting, I guess, to try to convince themselves that MoveOn is the reason our troops will be engaged in at least 18 more months of futile combat in Iraq, but it’s just not true — legislative defeat in September was inevitable, and the war is still very unpopular and still a very promising issue for 2008.