The 'Centrist' Position on the War in Iraq

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This Washington
Post

article
on the inner workings of the bizarrely revered Baker-Hamilton
Commission is notable for several reasons, the first of which is
that neoconservatives are stomping their feet and whining loudly
because they feel that their Great Wisdom and Expertise are being
unfairly ignored:

Neoconservatives,
who supported and crafted much of the original Iraq strategy,
say the panel was stacked against them. Michael Rubin, political
adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, resigned because
he said he was a token.

"Many
appointees appeared to be selected less for expertise than for
their hostility to President Bush’s war on terrorism and emphasis
on democracy," Rubin wrote in the Weekly Standard. Baker
and Hamilton "gerrymandered" the experts only "to
ratify predetermined recommendations," he wrote. "Rather
than prime the debate they sought to stifle it."

Only two
of the 40 experts – May and former CIA analyst Reuel Marc
Gerecht – are neoconservatives.

Seeking input
from the neocons on how to solve the Iraq disaster would be like
consulting the serial arsonist who started a deadly, raging fire
on how to extinguish it. That actually might make sense if the arsonist
were repentant and wanted to help reverse what he unleashed. But
if the arsonist were proud of the fire he started and actually wanted
to see it rage forever, even more strongly – and, worse, if
he were intent on starting whole new fires just like the one destroying
everything and everyone in its path – it would be the height
of irrationality for those wanting to extinguish the fire to listen
to what he has to say.

But more notable
than the supposed exclusion of neocons (something that should be
believed only once it is seen) is this claim about Washington-style
balance and "centrism":

The panel
was deliberately skewed toward a centrist course for Iraq, participants
said. Organizers avoided experts with extreme views on either
side of the Iraq war debate.

I’d really
like to know what the excluded anti-war "extreme view"
is that is the equivalent of the neonconservative desire for endless
warfare in Iraq and beyond. The only plausible possibility would
be the view that the U.S. ought to withdraw from Iraq, and do so
sooner rather than later. What else could it be? Nobody, to my knowledge,
is proposing that we cede American territory to the Iraqi insurgents,
so withdrawal essentially defines the far end of the anti-war spectrum.

Is withdrawal
– whether incremental or total – considered to be an "extreme
view" that the Washington "centrists" have not only
rejected but have excluded in advance even from consideration? That’s
what this article seems to suggest, and that would definitely be
consistent with conventional Beltway wisdom – that withdrawal
is advocated only by the fringe radicals and far leftists (such
as the individual whom Americans just knowingly installed as Speaker
of the House).

There is nothing
"centrist" about a Commission which decides in advance
that it will not remove our troops from a war which is an unmitigated
disaster and getting worse every day. It just goes without saying
that if you invade and occupy a country and are achieving nothing
good by staying, withdrawal must be one of the primary options considered
when deciding what to do about the disaster.

Even if that
is not the option ultimately chosen, a categorical refusal in advance
to consider that option – or to listen to experts who advocate
it – is not the work of a "centrist" body devoted
to finding a solution to this war. If the Commission begins with
the premise that we have to stay in Iraq and then only considers
proposals for how to modify our strategy on the margins, that is
anything but centrist. To the contrary, that is a close-minded –
and rather extremist – commitment to the continuation of a
war which most
Americans
have come to despise and want to see brought
to an end.

Back in 2002,
when the U.S. was debating whether to invade Iraq, those who opposed
the invasion were, for that reason alone, dismissed as unserious
morons and demonized as anti-American subversive hippies. Despite
the fact that subsequent events have largely proven them to have
been right, and that those who did the demonizing were the frivolous,
unserious, know-nothing extremists, this narrative persists, so
that – even now, when most Americans have turned against this
war – the only way to avoid being an "extremist,"
and to be rewarded with the "centrist" mantle, is to support
the continuation of this war in one form or another.

A desire to
keep troops in Iraq even in the face of what is going on there may
be many things, but "centrist" is not really one of them.
Any Commission which commits itself in advance to keeping American
troops fighting in Iraq for the foreseeable, indefinite future is
itself "extremist" – whether that term is seen as
a function of public opinion or assessed on its own merits.

UPDATE:
Via Greg Djerejian, who has all
you need to know
about Michael Rubin’s melodramatic protest
resignation from the Commission ("James Baker and Lee Hamilton,
doubtless, must have been crushed – that the penetrating insights
Rubin would have brought to bear are now lost forever"), here
is the list
of the 40 experts
assembled by the Commission (h/t MD).

November
28, 2006

Glenn
Greenwald [send him mail]
is the author of How
Would a Patriot Act?
See his blog Unclaimed
Territory
, where this first appeared.

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