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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The "centrist" position on the war in Iraq

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).

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