The Conservative Crackup, and Iced Lattes in Iraq

Pundits ponder the foreign policy of both parties (or lack thereof), while The Weekly Standard brings us poolside coverage from Iraq.

In this week’s National Review, Rich Lowry writes about what he terms “To Hell With Them Hawks” Republicans. “These are conservatives,” he says, “who are comfortable using force abroad, but have little patience for a deep entanglement with the Muslim world, which they consider unredeemable, or at least not worth the strenuous effort of trying to redeem. To put their departure from Bush in terms associated with foreign-policy analyst Walter Russell Mead, they want to detach Bush’s Jacksonianism (the hardheaded, somewhat bloody-minded nationalism) from his Wilsonianism (the crusading democratic idealism). Democrats are headed in this direction too. But the tendency is problematic and, in its own way, as naïve and unrealistic as Bush at his dreamiest.”

Lowry doesn’t think much of this growing movement, and warns continuously that it’s the wrong direction for conservatives to turn in the “post-Bush” era. (As an aside, let us note that it can’t be a good sign when your own most ardent supporters are preceding your name with the word “post-” when you still have three years left in your term.) Lowry cautions that if conservatives fall for this new approach, “it won’t be long until we are complaining yet again about the lack of realism in U.S. foreign policy, and yearning for something less simplistic and naïve.”

While the Republicans might be in disarray over their foreign policy posture, let’s not forget our Democratic friends out there blowing in the political wind. In The Nation this week, Ari Berman takes on Democratic politicians for “ducking” the Iraq issue after the president’s State of the Union address and in the run-up to the 2006 congressional election campaigns. Berman complains that “Three years into the conflict most Democrats can finally offer a cogent critique of how the Bush Administration misled the American people and mismanaged the Iraqi occupation, but they’re unwilling or unable to suggest clearly how the United States should extricate itself from that mess.” (See Kerry, John, 2004.)

Berman maintains that there is still time for the Democrats to right this wrong before the November elections, but “[f]iddling while Iraq burns will likely only reinforce Republican stereotypes of Democrats as calculating, gutless and unable to develop a strong and sensible foreign policy that will protect Americans in a post-9/11 world. If Democrats once again fall into what [Democratic pollster Celinda] Lake calls an ‘absence of articulation,’ the midterm voting — despite all the Republican scandals — could bring a replay of other years, ‘proof of a party that has become so afraid of losing it has forgotten what it takes to win.’”

Speaking of having what it takes to win, Max Boot recently went to Iraq, and in a story for the Weekly Standard that might sound vaguely familiar to readers of CJR Daily, ended up having some trouble getting around. But more than that, it sounds like Max had a splendid time while in country, whether he was enjoying “free, copious, and varied food is dished out by cheerful South Asian contract workers” at a chow hall, “sitting on a patio at one of Saddam Hussein’s palace complexes in Baghdad” where “the weather is perfect (about 70 degrees, with a light breeze), the water in the manmade lake is lapping gently against the patio, and the beige-stone Al Faw Palace … looms majestically in the background,” or sipping “a fresh-brewed iced latte at a Green Beans coffee shop.”

Boot also found that on the large military installations in Iraq, “tens of thousands of Americans can enjoy a simulacrum of their lives back home” and the grunts “cheerfully face danger beyond the imagination of your average cubicle dweller.” We’re waiting to see if he ever managed to get out of the chow halls at the mega-bases to see what Iraq outside the wire might be like.

While Boot may have had a splendid time drinking coffee and sitting by peaceful lakes in Baghdad, Navy doctor Richard Jadick had a less pleasant visit to Iraq. In November 2004, Jadick volunteered to be a battlefield doctor during the second bloody battle for Fallujah, and won a bronze star for his bravery. According to a story in Newsweek, “For 11 days, Jadick worked night and day at his forward aid station [in Fallujah]. In late November, as the area around the government building quieted, Jadick moved his team to an abandoned pickle factory in an industrial area where fighting was still going on.” By the end of the battle, Jadick’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mark Winn, “estimated that without Jadick at the front, the Marines would have lost an additional 30 men. Of the hundreds of men treated by Jadick, only one died after reaching a hospital. ‘I have never seen a doctor display the kind of courage and bravery that Rich did during Fallujah,’ said Winn.”

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.