EVERYONE’S HEARD of the 9/11 Democrats. The 9/11 Democrats are people like actor Ron Silver, comedian Dennis Miller and blogger/author Roger L. Simon. Stunned by the events of September 11, these people surveyed the political landscape and developed new views. A seismic event changed them and changed their politics.
A less noble creature is currently crawling out from Washington D.C.’s swamps. These are the 11/7 Republicans. Stunned by the election results of November 7, these Republican office holders surveyed the political landscape and decided that they had to distance themselves from the Iraq war to have any chance of preserving their political viability. While the 9/11 Democrats worry about the future of the country and matters of the highest principle, the 11/7 Republicans worry about their own craven interests in a completely unprincipled fashion.
THE POSTER CHILD FOR THE 11/7 Republicans is Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. Oregon is a blue state (or a purple state if you’re a cockeyed Republican optimist), and Smith is up for re-election in 2008.
After the 11/7 election results, Smith had several epiphanies regarding the Iraq war, epiphanies he shared with the country on December 8. In an address that ephemerally made him a hero to the inmates in the virtual insane asylum that is the Daily Kos, Smith distanced himself from the war effort that he had long supported. From the well of the Senate, he forthrightly declared, “I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal.”
Declaring the Bush administration “criminal” may knock ‘em dead in the liberal blogosphere, but conservatives were decidedly underwhelmed.
Some conservative cynics even questioned the timing of Smith’s revelations. In the same address, he confided to the nation that he had been nursing growing doubts about the war for quite some time. The fact that he unburdened himself of these doubts only after the cataclysm of 11/7 seemed a tad curious. After all, if he felt the prosecution of the war was perhaps “criminal,” surely he shouldn’t have sat on such sentiments merely because there was an election afoot. That wouldn’t have been much of a profile in courage.
As a matter of fact, Smith’s entire December 8 address didn’t register very high on the political courage meter. Putting the fulminating against the administration aside, it was impossible to determine what Smith wanted or was recommending with his December 8 stem-winder. Regarding the then-recently released Iraq Study Group report, Smith was a veritable profile in ambivalence. At one point in the speech, he “welcome(d) the report” and observed that the “commission has just done some, I suppose, good work.” A few paragraphs later, he was less committal, downgrading his assessment to, “The Iraq Study Group has given us some ideas. I don't know if they are good or not.” A mere two sentences later, Smith castigated the report for counseling a strategy of “cut and walk.”
Even after his December 8 speech, Smith was not done with his amusing displays of intellectual incoherence. After the plans for the surge were announced, Smith released a statement labeling it “the President’s Hail Mary pass.” And yet he proclaimed himself a stalwart supporter of the troops, even while he publicly belittled their mission and their chances of success.
SO WHAT DOES GORDON SMITH, the poster child for the 11/7 Republicans, really want? Regrettably, Senator Smith was unable to grant me an interview, but I did get to chat for a few minutes with his spokesman, R.C. Hammond.
Hammond bristled at my suggestion that Smith’s comments on the war had anything to do with the Senator’s reelection campaign. Quite the contrary, according to Hammond, the two aren’t related at all. When I raised the issue regarding the odd timing of Smith choosing to unburden himself of his concerns only after the 11/7 cataclysm, an annoyed Hammond assured me that Smith’s December 8 speech was the result of six months of analysis and reflection.
As regards the Gordon Smith Plan for Iraq, the key ingredients seem to be saying “whatever the generals want” while offering yet more intellectual incoherence. For instance, Hammond says that the Smith plan would forbid Americans from engaging anything that has the fetid stench of sectarian strife. So while Smith would allow U.S. troops to engage al Qaeda fighters, the hostile, destructive and allied-with-Iran Sadr militia would be off limits. The Smith plan, as expressed in his December 8 address and as Hammond explained it to me, would have American troops withdraw to the “horizon.” Whether the “horizon” is in Sadr City, Anbar or Okinawa has been left maddeningly undefined.
DURING HIS DECEMBER 8 SPEECH, Smith referenced the fact several times that he is a “student of military history.” As a self-professed military history buff, I hope Smith appreciates the following analogy: Smith is leading his Senate career and potentially his entire party into a political Cannae.
Conservatives who have been and remain stalwarts on the war will be disgusted by Smith’s change of heart and tone. Longtime opponents of the war will not welcome him into their fold. Even those who have traveled a similar intellectual path as Smith claims to have journeyed will find the sincerity of his alleged epiphanies, given their timing, to be implausible.
In short, Smith, any like-minded Republican Senators and the RNC if it decides to support such Senators, will wind up like the Romans at Cannae: Surrounded by hostiles, without friends, cut off from the outside world. Like the Romans at Cannae, their fate will also be destruction.
And it will be deserved. The fact that the 11/7 Republicans are prepared to play politics with matters of such import is contemptible. On Friday, my co-blogger Hugh Hewitt published the thoughts of Lieutenant Mark Daily, a UCLA grad who joined the army a week after we declared war on Saddam with the full intention of serving in Iraq. On why he decided to serve, Daily wrote:
“I simply decided that the time for candid discussions of the oppressed was over, and I joined…Please remember that America's commitment to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his sons existed before the current administration and would exist into our future children's lives had we not acted. Please remember that the problems that plague Iraq today were set in motion centuries ago and were up until now held back by the most cruel of cages. Don't forget that human beings have a responsibility to one another and that Americans will always have a responsibility to the oppressed. Don't overlook the obvious reasons to disagree with the war but don't cheapen the moral aspects either. Assisting a formerly oppressed population in converting their torn society into a plural, democratic one is dangerous and difficult business, especially when being attacked and sabotaged from literally every direction.”
Mark Daily was killed in Iraq this past Monday. To say that the Mark Dailys of our country deserve better than craven political opportunists like the 11/7 Republicans is to merely state the obvious.
But hey, perhaps I have Gordon Smith all wrong. Like I said, I tried to interview him to hear his side of the story. But if he feels any of this is unfair, I can offer him a far greater forum than Townhall.com to set the record straight. Hugh Hewitt has authorized me to extend an invitation to Senator Smith to appear on his radio show.
Hugh and I both hope the Senator accepts.