The policy issue
In some instances, the readers who wrote in disagreement were misreading what I had said. When I wrote that, just because our invasion of Iraq has created a mess, it did not necessarily follow that withdrawing American troops is the best option, these readers interpreted that as a rejection of that option. In fact, I consider it entirely possible that withdrawal is the best option. But I haven't seen the issue deliberated in the serious and comprehensive way that would be necessary to make a truly responsible judgment. And from what I've seen from my correspondents, it's not clear that they're in a position to make such a judgment either.
In response to one of these correspendents, who imagined I was defending our continued presence, I wrote: "do you really feel that you know with enough certainty whether it is true this time that, if you were president, you would feel that you could responsibly make the decision to bring all the Amrican troops home right now? Or, if you had such responsibility on your shoulders, would you want to get some people together -with deep knowledge about all the various domains that would be impacted by such a decision-to discuss all their options and their various pros and cons, before you made what would surely be an extremely important decision? If I were president, I would need to know a whole lot more, and to weigh things very carefully, before I committed to any course with respect to this Iraq mess. If our current president hadn't proceeded in so co*k-sure a fashion, after a decision-making process that was so lacking in the kind of thoughtfulness and intellectual integrity I believe in, we'd not have gotten into such a mess in the first place."
But the central issue with this "anti-war" approach is not the question of policy, in my view, but the question of politics-- i.e. the question of what is the proper posture to take and message to deliver in order to address the profound challenge of this moment. As important as the war is, it is not the heart of the challenge we face. The core issue, rather, is the nature of the leadership that took us into that war. The mess in Iraq is but a symptom of that larger, even graver danger to America.
The message we present America, therefore, should meet two criteria. First, it should dramatize what is central and what is unique about our present dark time. Second, it should reach across the divide and unite Americans against this leadership on the basis of values that we share.
Some have written me to express their contempt for Bush supporters, to declare they should just be written off. That's a recipe for disaster for America. The surest way to drain away the power from the dark forces that have taken over our country is to reveal their true moral nature to those of our countrymen who have empowered them. "Bring the troops home" can have no such impact.
Bringing the central challenge into focus
"Anti-war" is an insufficient posture. To some, opposing this war in Iraq is a continuation of their opposition to other exercises of American might-- perhaps out of a pacifistic rejection of war, perhaps out of opposition to what they see as long-standing American imperialism. Whatever the merits of those perspectives, what this moment requires is that we stress how the issues raised by this war are extraordinary.
To those who doubt that there's something unprecedented here, just take a look at the opinion polls in Europe. They reveal a change in howthe United States is perceived as an actor on the world stage-- a change very largely driven by how the United States went to war in Iraq. We are now widely seen as virtually a rogue nation, a threat to international order.
These are people who have generations of experience of American power, and their testimony should be pretty convincing: there is, indeed, something new and frightening about the face of America.
Conservatives are no more likely than liberals to appreciate being deceived about a matter of war and peace, life and death.
For that reason, our message to the American public about the Iraq war should stress the deceptive ---and therefore illegitimate-- means by which this country was led into this war.