Partisanship and War

PARTISANSHIP AND WAR….It’s kind of fun watching Andrew Sullivan and the NRO gang take potshots at each other ? they’re almost acting like Democrats! ? and while I don’t want to take sides in this grudge match, I have to say that I found Jonah Goldberg’s latest rhetorical volley intriguing. Responding to Sully’s complaint that George Bush didn’t try to unite the country in the aftermath of 9/11, he says:

First, the Democrats made the deliberate and cynical decision to make dividing the country a priority. Perhaps not that much ? or not uniformly ? before the 2002 elections. But afterwards, and most especially once the WMDs didn’t materialize….

To use the historical analogy in contention here, isn’t this a bit like blaming Churchill for World War II because Britain started fighting back in 1940 ? most especially after all that Blitz unpleasantness?

Remember, 2002 was quite a year. After a calculated display of bipartisan mourning for public consumption, the Bush administration thereafter refused to consult with or even take notice of the existence of an opposition party. Republican consultants advised their clients to use the war as a wedge issue in reelection campaigns and the Republican leadership declared rhetorical war on mild-mannered Tom Daschle. Andy Card talked about marketing plans for the Iraq invasion. The White House cynically proposed a union-busting plan for the Department of Homeland Security designed solely to arouse Democratic opposition. The President told cheering audiences that Senate Democrats didn’t care about the security of the country and campaigned tirelessly even against congressmen who had supported him. In Georgia, Max Cleland was likened to Osama bin Laden.

And it worked: Republicans won the election. And Democrats finally woke up and realized that George Bush was more interested in using the war as a partisan club than he was in actually fighting terrorists. So they started fighting back. If the Republicans were intent on making it a partisan issue, after all, what choice was there?

So yeah: “not that much” before the 2002 elections. Conversely, from the very beginning, it’s been clear that Bush wasn’t trying to build bipartisan support, the normal course for a president embarking on a foreign war, but was instead using the war as a partisan club and a campaign issue, a way of dividing the Democrats and making them look weak on national security.

Despite the fact that this is a global war that requires broad support over long timescales, George Bush has not tried to gain Democratic support; he has not engaged seriously with the international community; he has not asked the American public for any kind of sacrifice; he has continued to push a divisive domestic agenda; he has shown little interest in funding anti-proliferation efforts; he has declined to put adequate resources into Afghanistan; he has done nothing to fix an intelligence operation that’s quite obvously broken; and he has stonewalled every investigation into the failures that allowed 9/11 to happen.

So if you’re going to talk about a “deliberate and cynical decision to make dividing the country a priority,” let’s be honest about who made that decision. I’ll give you a hint: he’s not a Democrat.