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Ask Auntie Pinko
April 1, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

If Bush turns running Iraq over to the Iraqi people in July, will there be enough time for everything to go to hell in a handbasket before the election? How many American lives is it likely to cost in the mean time? And if John Kerry is elected, do you think he will bring the troops home right away? And if he does, will the Iraqis stop blowing things up and shooting people?

I just don't see any good outcomes here, do you?

Connie R,
Twin Falls, ID

Dear Connie,

It is very hard to see any positive outcome to this, isn't it? No matter how events unfold, this particular mess will provide both parties with sticks for beating one another, fairly or unfairly, while regardless of whose "fault" it is, American service people and Iraqi civilians continue to suffer and die.

Auntie doesn't feel very optimistic about it, either, Connie, because I see two things that need to happen, and accomplishing (or even seriously trying to accomplish) either would make it harder to do the other one. The two things are:

1. Cleaning up the mess; and
2. Preventing more messes like this.

The first one is unlikely to happen because it's an election year, and it is doubtful the Democratic Party will do the things needed to accomplish the first, since it is to our greater political advantage to concentrate on the second. And the second is unlikely to happen because it would mean the GOP having to take responsibility for some very bad leadership decisions, and that would be political suicide in an election year.

Cleaning up the mess would require both parties to declare a moratorium on using the issue of rebuilding Iraq for partisan political ends. If they could do that, there could be some meaningful discussions about long-term commitments to rebuilding Iraq, and the resources the United States would have to put into such an effort. And it might be easier for Mr. Bush's administration to undertake sincere and meaningful negotiations with the UN for help in Iraq, if they didn't have to worry about the Democratic Party making political hay from such an action. Auntie thinks this is very unlikely to happen, due to the nature of partisan politics in America.

And unfortunately, even if they could negotiate a truce with the Democrats, the GOP has backed itself thoroughly into a corner by putting so many of its political eggs into the basket held by xenophobic, rabidly UN-hating factions within the Party. Any attempt on their part to sincerely engage the UN and other member states in developing a real solution to the mess puts them at risk of alienating these factions, which have become critical elements in the GOP base.

It would take an act of great political courage and moral conviction for the GOP leadership to do this, and an act of supreme discipline and self-denial for the Democratic leadership to make it possible. If only the positions were reversed! Republicans have traditionally been a bit better at discipline and self-denial, and Democrats have traditionally been more willing to take risks in the name of moral conviction.

Of course, engaging the UN and other allied nations in helping with the cleanup will not suffice, America would also have to be prepared to make a considerable (and long-term) investment of resources. When this investment is added to the investments required to protect Americans from terrorism, and solve our domestic economic problems, it would require a very special kind of leadership to convince the American people to make the sacrifices necessary for such investment.

That kind of leadership has always been rare, and it is even more difficult to find in an era when such powerful communications tools are available for each party to foster hatred for the other party's leaders.

As far as preventing similar messes is concerned, we need to analyze the errors, faulty judgment, and wishful thinking that went into causing the mess in the first place. We need to look at why our system of checks and balances did not prevent it. If we could arrive at reliable answers to those questions, we could look at whether the system was functioning improperly, or just not designed to address such a dilemma. And we could weigh the costs and benefits of fixing the system or changing it.

But while attempts to do all this can reasonably be interpreted as partisan political haymaking, they will be ineffective, and they won't have enough support from ordinary Americans to succeed. So the best thing we can do is try to refrain from extremist, partisan interpretations-from either end of the spectrum-of the events as they unfold, support balanced, non-partisan attempts to address the issues, and save our partisan fervor for issues where it can be helpful, rather than counter productive.

There are certainly plenty of those! Medicare funding, trade incentives, tax policy, education-you name it, there's a legitimate partisan case to be made in every example. And Auntie is biased enough to think they all reflect pretty well on the Democratic Party, too, though there are plenty of reasonable cases to be made from the GOP side. So start asking candidates the right questions, and don't forget to help get out the vote, Connie! Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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