WESTEN ON THE WAR….Drew Westen has a piece in the New Republic today that perfectly illustrates my mixed feelings about him. First, here he is talking about what’s wrong with Democratic waffling on the Iraq war:

When, in May, Democrats offered rationalizations about not having the votes to override a veto…and most importantly, when they backed down after they had repeatedly stated their principled opposition to the war, they did nothing but to underscore the message Americans — appropriately — took away from the Iraq war vote in May, and will do again if Democrats continue to back down: that Democrats lack the courage of their convictions.

…. The way to win the center on national security is not to try to craft centrist positions on national security….The way to project strength on national security and to win back the Reagan Democrats who voted for Bill Clinton (despite his draft record) and flirted with the Democratic Party again in 2006 is to exude strength, particularly in the face of aggression, whether that aggression is from al Qaeda or from a bully in his bully pulpit.

That strikes me as exactly right. But what form should a stronger opposition take? Here’s Westen a couple of paragraphs previously:

Democrats should pass a bill, call it what it is (the “Protection of Our Men and Women in Uniform Act”), stick with it until the president signs it into law or enough Republicans, fearing for their political lives, jump ship and vote for it, and start a running tally of the number of dead and wounded American soldiers since [fill in your Republican incumbent’s name here] failed to support our troops by taking them out of the middle of someone else’s civil war. If Republicans want to filibuster, let them live with the consequences as the name and photograph of every new fallen solder is tied to the person at the podium, as it should be.

This strikes me almost precisely the worst possible strategy. The last thing we want to do is convince the public that the reason Democrats want to pull out of Iraq is because our enemies have hit us too hard and we don’t have the stomach to fight back. That’s exactly the message this would send, and it’s wrong on both substantive and psychological grounds. Republicans would eat us for lunch.

There are lots of powerful arguments in favor of withdrawing from Iraq. For starters, as Westen points out, we’re stuck in the middle of a bloody sectarian civil war in which we have little stake. On the political front, the Iraqi government has no incentive to make necessary compromises as long as they know we’ll stay and back them up no matter what. The surge hasn’t changed this and doesn’t seem likely to change it in the future. Finally, and more broadly, our presence fuels the very insurgency we’re fighting and makes Iraq into al-Qaeda’s richest recruiting grounds, all the while sucking troops away from Aghanistan and the Pakistani border, al-Qaeda’s real home and primary training ground. Fundamentally, our national security is served better by pulling out of Iraq than by staying.

Those are good reasons for leaving Iraq. But nobody who’s even within shouting distance of the political center wants to believe that we’re leaving simply because we’re too weak-kneed to accept casualties — and they won’t thank any political party that forces that notion down their throats. It makes them feel cowardly. The focus needs to be not on the fact that soldiers are dying, but that they’re dying for a bad cause. Back to the drawing board.