Is Robert Kagan Nuts?

IS ROBERT KAGAN NUTS?….Robert Kagan writes today that Joe Lieberman isn’t a marked man because he supported the Iraq war four years ago, he’s a marked man because he’s stuck to his guns since then:

He didn’t say he was wrong. He didn’t turn on his former allies and condemn them. He didn’t claim to be the victim of a hoax. He didn’t try to pretend that he never supported the war in the first place. He didn’t claim to be led into support for the war by a group of writers and intellectuals whom he can now denounce. He didn’t go through a public show of agonizing and phony soul-baring and apologizing in the hopes of resuscitating his reputation, as have some noted “public intellectuals.”

These have been the chosen tactics of self-preservation ever since events in Iraq started to go badly and the war became unpopular….Apparently, amazingly, dispiritingly, it all works. At least in the short run, dishonesty pays. Dissembling pays.

Jon Chait and Matt Yglesias both take this to mean that Kagan thinks there’s something dishonest about changing your views when faced with changing facts on the ground. This would indeed be a bizarre opinion to hold, but I think Kagan is actually saying something different: he’s saying that in this particular case he believes that most of the Democrats who have recanted their support of the war have done so merely to save their political skins. They don’t really regret their vote, they just know which way the winds are blowing.

If my read is right, this is hardly an unusual critique. (When a politician performs a policy U-turn, do you normally think it’s the result of some deep and profound soul searching, or do you assume it’s more likely the result of pressure from interest groups or an examination of the latest polls? The latter, right?) Still, ordinary though it may be, what makes Kagan’s accusation interesting is that it jibes with a fairly common lefty critique of the Democratic Party that goes something like this: “Sure, they’re opposed to the Iraq war now, but what will they do when the next war comes around?” How germane would such a question be if you believed that all these Dem politicians had undergone a genuine change of heart?

Actually, as Matt points out, the more peculiar thing about Kagan’s column is the underlying assumption that you can’t be considered reliable on national security issues unless you’ve supported every single war that’s ever been proposed. In fact, this view seems to pretty much underly the entire conservative project these days. Matt has a good post about it here.