Saturday, October 29, 2005

Take the last train to Clarksville

We were invited to a Wesley Clark WesPac fundraiser last night by the lovely and talented Mark Kleiman, (thanks also to Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake) and of course, being intrigued by the General's presence and demeanor during the last campaign cycle, we gladly attended.

Mark arranged for a private sit-down for some of us LA bloggers with the General, who with his charming wife Gert, chatted face to face with several of us for almost half an hour. Besides Mark, myself and Pam (Ms. Audio), there were John Amato, Dante Atkins, Howie Klein, who, like me, is a survivor of recording studios and the music biz, and a very nice person from Who's Counting.

The General is even more personable than he appeared on TV. He looked each one of us in the eye, had a message that he clearly felt he wanted to get across, and also listened to our questions. And rather than patronize us by making supporting noises about bloggers as the wave of the future and salvation of the human race, he instead told us what he felt he wanted us to hear, his vision for uniting the Democratic Party behind a clear winning message.

He also said one thing that really struck me. He said: "I have no friends at the Pentagon." Hard to believe, as he is a successful career military man. But he pointed out that many of his former colleagues still owe fiscal allegiance either to the military, or to the corporations upon whose boards they sit, in order to pay for the country club membership. In exchange for which, they can often call up the SecDef or staff and say "Hey, you know I'm with General Dynamics now, and they have their new Acme RoadRunner model submarine that you guys should really take a look at."

He also talked about torture and The Geneva Conventions as values we have to adhere to, lest we fail to be what we proclaim to the world, the greatest civilization on earth. He said we can't expect other peoples and societies to respect us unless we also show reciprocal respect. I pointed out that many Americans today have no problem advocating torture as a method of securing their security, regardless of evidence that as an interrogation method it seldom bears fruit. He replied that many Americans are afraid today, of "other" and change, and that we can reach those folks, because at the end of the day, they are still Americans, with values, just a bit misguided.

When he spoke to the larger group of attendees, he also made the point that although Democrats have many niche issues, we can't hang our hats on the success of those. We instead need to focus on making the Party stronger, convincing America that we are the party of values, and if we build a coalition that focuses on the Common Good (his phrase), rather than individual good, we can win elections.

Now that sounds good to me.

He also talked about an Exit Strategy for Iraq, and this troubled me, because he didn't say exactly what I wanted to hear. He said that we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, something most Democrats always believed (sorry Peter Beinert, you're just wrong.) That was an idea we all could agree with.

But then he said that we also couldn't leave, and that a timetable was a strategy for failure. He said the withdrawal had to be Event Driven (again, his phrase), and that only upon certain conditions, like a truly self-sufficient Iraqi military, with some hope of maintaining a balance of power between Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds, could we ever start to leave with some certainty that civil war wouldn't erupt.

This bothered me. I wanted instant gratification, an easy way out. I wanted to believe that no more American soldiers or Iraqi civilians would die. I also wanted to believe that we wouldn't watch the Oil Ministry be saved while the Electricity grid was destroyed. And I wanted to believe that the Bush administration wouldn't lie so brazenly about Iraq.

I knew they were lying, I knew the Oil Ministry was the most important target, and I knew General Clark was right.

Time to join the world, time to grow up.

Thanks, Gen. Clark.

Update: Corrected to fix the large error regarding Howie Klein as a blogger. In fact, Howie blogs his ass off here: Down With Tyranny!. Apologies, Howie.