Somewhere between Bush and McGovern

National Review‘s Rich Lowry doesn’t seem pleased with President Obama’s policy in Iraq, which will see all U.S. troops withdraw over the next couple of months. In fact, Lowry references George McGovern five times in a nine-paragraph column.

When Pres. Barack Obama took the podium last Friday to abruptly announce the imminent end of the Iraq War, he ended on a ringing McGovernite note: “After a decade of war, the nation that we need to build — and the nation that we will build — is our own.” […]

The Obama at that podium was the same as the Obama of the Democratic primaries, with his heedlessly irresponsible commitment to a hasty retreat from Iraq. Back then, he was only capable of vaporous posturing. Now, he’s president of the United States and has pulled the plug on the Iraq War in what will surely be a boost to Iran….

How does Lowry reconcile his criticism of Obama with the fact that the administration was honoring the withdrawal timetable embraced by Bush/Cheney? He doesn’t. Lowry had room for five references to McGovern — and a Howard Dean mention for good measure — but he neglected to mention that it was Obama’s Republican predecessor that struck an agreement with Iraq to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Presumably, George W. Bush was overcome with “McGovernism in extremis” as well.

But in the larger context, I’m impressed with the variety of critiques from the right when it comes to the Obama policy. On the one hand, conservatives have assured the public that Obama is simply following Bush’s lead, and there’s no reason to give the president credit for ending a war most Americans are eager to see conclude, especially since Obama is following a timetable that was negotiated before he took office.

On the other hand, conservatives are simultaneously arguing that Obama is following a weak and dangerous course, which Americans should find frightening.

It’s the kind of contradictory dynamic that suggests Paul Krugman was onto something yesterday.

[M]ovement conservatism has become a closed, inward-looking universe in which you get points not by sounding reasonable to uncommitted outsiders — although there are a few designated pundits who play that role professionally — but by outdoing your fellow movement members in zeal.

It’s sort of reminiscent of Stalinists going after Trotskyites in the old days: the Trotskyites were left deviationists, and also saboteurs working for the Nazis. Didn’t propagandists feel silly saying all that? Not at all: in their universe, extremism in defense of the larger truth was no vice, and you literally couldn’t go too far.