Who is politicizing the war now?

Over the weekend, I wrote about a Washington Post forum piece by American Security Project Senior Fellow Bernard Finel, comparing it to an Economist piece on a similar subject.

Finel, who I respect deeply, responded yesterday at the Huffington Post. He called my post "bizarre". I feel like I have to respond, but it is long. If you are interested, the rest is below the fold.

The final paragraph makes clear what his agenda in writing the piece actually is:

For too long, the Bush administration has treated the "war on terror" as a political cudgel rather than a policy challenge. And for too long, we have allowed the administration to play a shell game with this serious threat. The men who attacked us on 9/11 remain at large and continue to lead a dangerous movement that daily plots our demise. Unfortunately, rather than focus directly on this threat, the Bush administration has used it to scare Americans into supporting its policies on Iraq, Iran, and domestically on civil liberties. Worse, they have used the threat in a nakedly political manner, ratcheting up fears when convenient and soft-pedaling them when useful. This permanent campaign mentality -- of doing whatever it takes to win politically at all times -- has distracted the country and made us less safe. Unfortunately, we are now at the point where pointing out this obvious fact comes across as a political attack by "a man of the left" as Soren refers to me.

(side note: who writes at Huffington Post but denies being affiliated with the left? Very weird)

One of the tragedies of the collapse of a real foreign policy consensus is that foreign policy has become a normal political issue. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another intellectually serious man of the left, said:

The atmosphere in which social legislation is considered is not a friend of truth.

This is where we are in foreign policy now.

The left has a serious critique that the timing of the 2002 vote to authorize force was, perhaps, too politically timed. And Republican political consultants will reminisce, although not entirely comfortably, that 2006 and 2008 aren't like 2002 when ads could just bash Democrats on security. I grant all of this.

But let's return to Finel's point. Is he now saying that we shouldn't politicize Iraq? No. He is saying that we shouldn't politicize our successes. He is correct, but he doesn't stop there.

In the above paragraph, he starts talking about Bush and ends with this:

This permanent campaign mentality -- of doing whatever it takes to win politically at all times -- has distracted the country and made us less safe.

Again, he is correct. But it is a problem faced only by his ideological opponents, not his friends. Is there a comparable call about politicizing our failures? Does he offer a condemnation of anyone when any bad day is greeted with immediate calls for withdrawal? Does he condemn MoveOn for dishonest attacks on our soldiers or John McCain? Does he attack Howard Dean or Barack Obama for lying about John McCain with scare tactics about 100 years, dishonestly eliding what the 100 years would be able? Does he attack Harry Reid for politicizing the problems in Iraq? Does he attack Chuck Schumer for saying that Democrats can win seats off of Iraq?

Either Finel is ignorant of the way that policy analysis is used, and then he shouldn't comment on it, or he is being disingenuous in the way that he is addressing the issue. In the end, Finel is marrying serious policy analysis to a completely unserious political analysis.

I think that we can all agree that there are serious policy problems to be addressed here. We need to find some sort of stable situation in Iraq. (note that I don't say "endpoint" or something final. We must understand that whatever happens, we are involved for a long time. "You break it, you buy it.") We need to update Geneva to deal more centrally with the problem of non-state actors. We need to work with our allies, and in some cases, our enemies, to be better peacebuilders. (this is something that, I think, the EU is quite interested in leading) We need to figure out how our trade policy relates to our development policy and our strategies so that we can address the environment in which terrorists are created. (I am uncomfortable with the simplicity of "root causes")

Furthermore, Finel's linking of unserious political analysis with serious policy analysis makes it quite hard to build a serious policy for the future. In the 2nd Bush term, we have made progress in rebuilding our relationships with many European countries and, especially, their leaders. But structural problems remain on things like trade and some security agreements, where Barack Obama's (current?) positions are undermining our relationships with our allies. It is not an accident that David Miliband has questioned Obama's Iran policy and Peter Mandelson has questioned his trade policy.

So, Dr. Finel. Let's be serious here, please? You are unsuited to being a hack, so why go there?