In the Arena

Dodd v. Gingrich

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Just watched the debate on Meet the Press. I thought Dodd won, mostly because Gingrich lost–which was surprising becausee Newt has a quick mouth and is usually pretty good at these things. In this case, however, Gingrich was enslaved by history–constantly making false comparisons to World War II (Guadalcanal was tough!) and the American Revolution (We’re lucky the French didn’t treat us as we’re treating the Iraqis). And somehow roping in Colombia (without any real explanation). Anything but the actual situation on the ground.

Which is dismal. And different from World War II in this way: There was a country named Japan and another one called Germany. Iraq is not a country; it is an unnatural agglomeration of tribes, some shi’ite, some sunni, some Kurdish, some Turkomen…etc,etc. Gingrich kept talking about supporting our “allies” in Iraq. Which ones? The Shi’ites? Again, which ones–and doesn’t that empower Iran? The Sunnis? But weren’t they the Ba’athists, the people we came to overthrow? And aren’t some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda? “It’s like asking the Nazis to help us manage fascist Italy,” Gingrich said of talking to Iran about helping to calm down Iraq. But haven’t we done that consistently in the past–and present? Didn’t we ask Saddam to do that with Iran? And the Saudis to do that in Afghanistan (which gave rise to Al Qaeda)? And the terrorist-harboring Pakistanis to do that with Al Qaeda and the Taliban now?

The point is, all this talk of winning and losing in Iraq–the standard Republican trope–is ridiculous. As was Mitch McConnell’s talk of a “surrender” date on Stephanopoulos this morning. It’s interesting that Gingrich had no response when Dodd brought up the Petraeus refrain: a military victory is not possible. Why is it that the history of “Iraq”–the British attempt to cobble together three separate Ottoman provinces at the Cairo Conference in 1921–is one piece of history to which Gingrich never refers?

I like Gingrich, even when I disagree with him, which is often. I like him because he’s usually intellectually honest, even when it’s inconvenient politically. He is not being intellectually honest about Iraq…Obviously, because he’s running for president.
(And, by the way, Chris Dodd, while much closer to reality than Gingrich, is pandering to the Democratic base by insisting on a withdrawal timetable. It would be nice if some Democrat running for President would tell the truth about that, which is: “Yes, we have to leave–and we should immediately disenage from those areas, like Baghdad, where we find ourselves in the middle of a civil war. But the speed and totality of our withdrawal is going to depend on events on the ground.”