Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Good Doctor's Cure for Iraq

Michael O'Hanlon puts forth an exemplary analysis of Howard Dean's Iraq policy in the Wall Street Journal. He highlights two major problems, the second of which should be familiar to loyal P&F readers:
Worst of all is the new Dean television ad in Iowa. In that spot, he chastises Dick Gephardt for supporting President Bush's Iraq policy, and then concludes, "I opposed the war in Iraq. And I'm against spending another $87 billion there." Mr. Dean does not say he opposed the specifics of the administration's supplemental appropriation, which would be a partially defensible position held by several other Democratic candidates. Rather, he categorically opposes an expense of that magnitude in ads running right now in the Hawkeye State. Unfortunately for the country and for the soundness of Mr. Dean's argument, there is no way to stabilize Iraq and protect U.S. security interests in the region without an expenditure in that ballpark.
It bears repeating that Dean really does himself no justice on this point. See if you can decipher the key paragraphs of his official statement on the appropriation, because I certainly have a hard time doing so:
Let me be clear, I strongly support our troops and hope, with all Americans, for their safe return home. And the responsible action for our troops is to demand that the President immediately submit a new plan for supporting our troops and rebuilding Iraq. The results of the last hastily-made Iraq policy decision are all too evident today. Congress owes it to our troops, the American people and the people in Iraq to make the right decision this time.

I would oppose President Bush's latest request for a blank check unless the President submits a new plan that is paid for out of the tax cut. The new plan must give our troops what they need and bring them home safely, share this burden with other nations, ensure the stabilization and rebuilding of Iraq, and make sure that the billions of dollars we are spending are not wasted and used to pay off big corporations. Congress must demand that the President submit this new plan immediately. [Emphasis added.]
Clearly, Dean opposes the President's request. But why, exactly? Is it simply because it comes without rolling back the tax cuts? No. Dean mentions "stabilization," rebuilding," and other noble ideas.

In fact, the idea that stands out prominently is the one about the troops. But what is he saying? The italicized phrases show him expressing "support," but his definition is muddled. In some points, he wants them to return safely. In other points, he urges the reconstruction. The last italicized part emphasizes the importance of "giv[ing] our troops what they need." By this time, however, you're not quite sure whether Dean believes that "what they need" relates to mission accomplishment or whether it relates to premature withdrawal, since the very next words are "bring them home safely."

It's very easy to get the sense that he's kowtowing to different audiences, as O'Hanlon observes. Moreover, Dean seems to be doing so to try to stand out: he ends, for example, by contrasting his consistent opposition to administration policy against the shaky positions of his Democratic rivals. Thus his own stance smacks of political opportunism.


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