ADOLESCENTS WHO THINK...

ADOLESCENTS WHO THINK THEY KNOW BEST. Not to be petty about this, but aren't Michael Hirsh's metaphors all backwards here? He argues that "the Democrats, ostensibly the party poised to exploit this GOP civil war, don't seem to remember what it is like to behave as adults. They resemble nothing so much as ill-adjusted adolescents, afraid of their own shadows, much less the presidency." Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the accepted line that adolescents all think they know what's best? Aren't there a variety of aphorisms that all say, basically, "I never knew as much as I did when I was 14"? Don't teenagers bluster and brag, evincing little self-doubt and less hesitation? And aren't adults supposed to me more cautious, more aware of their ignorance? Wisdom is knowing how little you know and all that.

Metaphors aside, Hirsh's article is another entry in the "Democrats Don't Know Where They Stand" contest. "Talk," he says, "to any responsible official or officer in the military, intelligence or diplomatic community. Most will tell you that Bush got most of the war on terror wrong (at least after the Taliban fell), that he invented a war of choice in Iraq and failed to finish the war of necessity against Al Qaeda. The toughest hombres in the country�not least some recently retired generals�are saying the �war president� has no clothes, that he has been, in effect, a disastrous war president. This is what I hear every week now as a reporter, from officials who identify themselves as Republican, Democrat or independent...Yet the vast majority of Democratic leaders cannot bring themselves to say this�Hillary most prominently of all." Yawn. I've heard a thousand Democrats make that speech -- it remains as uncompelling now as it was then. It's a perfectly sound critique, to be sure, but it doesn't suggest any solutions or offer any way forward.

It's tough to admit, but there are no good options for Iraq. The reason Democrats aren't leaping up to ferociously roar out their alternatives is that no honest observer could have an ounce of faith in their plans for the future. Some believe in withdrawal, but it's a resigned admission, not a rallying cry. Hirsh's plan -- "Stand up for democracy and freedom, yes, but keep the international system on your side. Make use of the United Nations whenever you can, though not necessarily, bending it to your needs when possible. Create as many allies as you can. Listen. Accommodate. Be magnanimous. Above all, make sure you have more guys on your side than your adversaries have on theirs." -- isn't a particularly prescriptive alternative. Hirsh may be enamored by the advice his military buddies are giving him, but be assured that they're offering that advice to the Democrats -- and Republicans -- too. And were it really such a silver bullet, a thousand progressives would have long ago cocked their guns. As it is, if hundreds of candidates, thousands of consultants, and millions of armchair pundits haven't all adopted an answer so obvious and easy as this, it may be because we're dealing with an issue on which there are no easy answers, clean storylines, or easy ripostes. How immature of the Democrats to agree.

--Ezra Klein

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