Proposed: That the Republican Party Is to the United States as the Sunni Insurgency Is to Iraq

I want to talk about a metaphor that occurred to me recently, but before I do, I want to emphasize that it is just a metaphor. I realize that there is a huge difference between blowing up innocent people and endeavoring to keep unemployment rates high. But with that said, even if the actual implementations of the two strategies differ, the strategies themselves have some interesting similarities.

The strategies I’m referring to, if you haven’t figured it out already, are those of the post-war Sunni insurgency in Iraq and the post-2008 Republican party in the US. In each case there was a group that had been toppled from power and wanted very much to get that power back. In each case the “official” levers of power were unavailable. In Iraq, the Army had been defeated militarily and then disbanded, and de-Baathification had removed Sunnis from power throughout the new government. In the US, Republicans had lost the White House, and, following on the 2006 loss of the House, they now had also lost the Senate (though it took a while for the Senate majority to actually change hands).

In each case the newly out-of-power group couldn’t do much within the system. They couldn’t run things, couldn’t propose or pass legislation, and couldn’t build goodwill with the population by delivering things that make peoples’ lives better. But in each case they could, if they chose, prevent their newly empowered adversaries from succeeding in doing any of those things. And that’s exactly what they did.

In Iraq the Sunni insurgency launched an underground war, both upon the American occupiers and upon the Shiite majority. Their preferred method of attack was the IED, the roadside bomb that killed American servicemen and women in their humvees or turned hundreds of mostly-Shiite civilians at markets and mosques into bloody body parts. Their goal was not to defeat the invaders or the Shiite ruling regime directly. It was to make the country ungovernable, to make things as horrific and chaotic as they could, to upset their opponents’ apple cart as a necessary first step in the eventual reacquisition of their own power.

In the US, the newly dis-empowered Republican party adopted the (again, metaphorically) similar strategy of denying Obama and his Democratic allies any easy legislative victories. In that fight they didn’t have much to work with, but they did have one thing: the Senate filibuster. So they used it, and used it at a record pace, blocking votes on virtually everything, including not only Democrats’ legislative priorities, but also normally-routine appointments to judgeships and government agencies. As a result they were able to kill or substantially hinder nearly every part of Obama’s agenda. Even on the one big battle that they lost (healthcare reform), they managed to turn it into something of a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats, chewing up vast amounts of time and Obama’s political capital, with the resulting legislation being watered down significantly.

Today, with the Republican party having re-won the House in the 2010 elections, they have an opportunity to go further, setting off even more “roadside bombs” (legislatively speaking). Among the things they can do, if they’re willing to, is to fight tooth and nail to make sure the government doesn’t do anything that might reduce the unemployment rate. They might go as far as forcing a government shutdown, blocking spending and helping to nudge the country back into the recession it has slowly been creeping out of. They can try to pressure the Fed not to take any actions that might stimulate economic growth. By doing so, they can maximize their chances of retaking the White House in 2012. Of course, they will also be choosing a strategy that keeps the economy sluggish and unemployment rates high.

That’s the sense in which the Republican strategy feels to me like the Sunni insurgency: By engaging in economic sabotage, they are willing to hurt the people of their own country merely because it helps their own chances of future power. It amounts to putting party before country in a way that I find really repellent, and that I tend to believe would strike those on the opposite side of this debate (by which I mean, conservatives) as equally repellent, if they actually believed it was happening. Which I assume they don’t believe, or else they would not support the kind of leadership that would engage in it.

Some links about this:


I, for one, welcome our new Tea Party overlords: My own post-election comment here, in which I first talked about a Republican party “willing to wield the filibuster as the legislative equivalent of a roadside bomb.”

Steve Benen:

GOP poised to kill tax-extenders bill, None dare call it sabotage and Krugman fears ‘Making America ungovernable’. Benen is the guy who took over Kevin Drum’s political blogger post at the Washington Monthly when Drum moved on to Mother Jones. Benen is often too doctrinaire in his liberal leanings for my taste, but if you’re willing to take that into account when reading him he makes some valid points.

Here’s a quote from the middle one of those three items:

For months in 2009, conservatives debated amongst themselves about whether it’s acceptable to actively root against President Obama as he dealt with a variety of pressing emergencies. Led by Rush Limbaugh and others, the right generally seemed to agree that there was nothing wrong with rooting against our leaders’ success, even in a time of crisis.

But we’re talking about a significantly different dynamic now. This general approach has shifted from hoping conditions don’t improve to taking steps to ensure conditions don’t improve. We’ve gone from Republicans rooting for failure to Republicans trying to guarantee failure.

Paul Krugman:

Axis of depression and There will be blood. Again, with Krugman you know you’re going to get an unabashedly liberal take. But that doesn’t mean you get to dismiss his arguments out of hand. (Well, if you’re the type who accepts the Fox News propaganda at face value, I guess it does. But at least speaking for myself, I feel like I have an obligation to consider the arguments that Krugman makes, and figure out why he’s incorrect, if I want to believe he is.)

From the latter Krugman piece:

Right now, in particular, Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits – an action that will both cause immense hardship and drain purchasing power from an already sputtering economy. But there’s no point appealing to the better angels of their nature; America just doesn’t work that way anymore.

And opposition for the sake of opposition isn’t limited to economic policy. Politics, they used to tell us, stops at the water’s edge – but that was then.

These days, national security experts are tearing their hair out over the decision of Senate Republicans to block a desperately needed new strategic arms treaty. And everyone knows that these Republicans oppose the treaty, not because of legitimate objections, but simply because it’s an Obama administration initiative; if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it.

Matt Yglesias:

Planning for the worst:

So I know that tangible improvements in the economy are key to Obama’s re-election chances. And Douglas Hibbs knows that it’s key. And senior administration officials know that its key. So is it so unreasonable to think that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may also know that it’s key? That rank and file Republicans know that it’s key? McConnell has clarified that his key goal in the Senate is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012 which if McConnell understands the situation correctly means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth. Boehner has distanced himself from this theory, but many members of his caucus may agree with McConnell.

Which is just to say that specifically the White House needs to be prepared not just for rough political tactics from the opposition (what else is new?) but for a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage.

Stan Collander:

Bitter GOP criticism of the Fed may be ahead and GOP criticism of the Federal Reserve was both predictable and predicted. Collender looks at the specific case of the Federal Reserve, and its role (or non-role) in helping the country get out of the recession.

Jonathon Chait:

It’s not a lie if you believe it. With a title like that, how could I not find it compelling? Chait falls into the “no, they wouldn’t intentionally sabotage the economy” camp:

Still, I think you have to be careful about making assumptions about motive like this. Establishing motive is always very hard to prove. What’s more, the notion of deliberate sabotage presumes a conscious awareness that doesn’t square with human psychology as I understand it. People are extraordinarily deft at making their principles — not just their stated principles, but their actual principles — comport with their interests. The old Upton Sinclair quote — “It is difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it” — has a lot of wisdom to it.

I don’t think many Republicans are actually trying to stop legislation that might help the economy recover because they know that a slow economy is their best route to regaining power. I think that when they’re in power, consequences like an economic slowdown or a collapsing industry seem very dire, and policies to prevent this are going to sound compelling. When you’re out of power, arguments against such policies are going to sound more compelling.

Faiz Shakir:

Mitch McConnell: I want to be Senate majority leader in order to make Obama a one-term president. Shakir talks about a pre-election admission by Mitch McConnell that defeating Obama in 2012 is the “single most important thing” he would have done as majority leader in the Senate.

Kevin Drum:

Forecasting 2012 and The liberal noise machine. Drum is my favorite political blogger. The thing I like most about his writing is that he retains an ability to make up his own mind, based on his own research, independent of what ideology might dictate. He seems largely immune to the “my side is always right, even when it’s wrong” mindset that plagues so much of our national discourse. Here’s his take on the “are they intentionally sabotaging or not?” question:

POSTSCRIPT: For what it’s worth, my own view isn’t that Republicans are consciously trying to sabotage the economy. Rather, I think it’s really easy to convince yourself of things that are in your own self-interest, and that’s mostly what they’ve done. A bad economy is in their self-interest, so they’ve convinced themselves that every possible policy to improve things is a bad idea.

I’m willing to believe that people like Chait and Drum are right: Republicans would not intentionally hurt the country in order to help their own electoral prospects. But that’s small comfort, given that I also believe that by deluding themselves as they have into believing that opposing everything Obama wants will be good for the country, they have talked themselves into a strategy that actually does harm the country in real ways. We have real problems that need to be addressed, and by reflexively opposing everything Obama proposes, they are preventing even those actions that might be agreeable to both sides from being taken.

20 Responses to “Proposed: That the Republican Party Is to the United States as the Sunni Insurgency Is to Iraq”

  1. shcb Says:

    Well that’s just BS pure and simple, when the Democrats used the filibuster to block judicial nominees for the first time in our history conservatives were outraged, no only because of the act but because of the precedence it set. Now those chickens have come home to roost. But now what do we do? If either side changes the rules of the Senate they get labeled as being unfair to the side out of power. Democrats have a long history of being spoil sports they are just getting a taste of their own medicine, and it isn’t good for the country. Newt was the last one to try and play fair with the side out of power and look what it gained him, doodly squat.

  2. shcb Says:

    Also, unless I’m mistaken, they aren’t in power yet, what are they doing to cause all this havoc? Have they somehow circumvented the constitution and installed themselves already?

  3. knarlyknight Says:

    I suggest you stfu & re-read jbc’s post. You are off base.

    JBC, thanks for the brain food.

  4. shcb Says:

    I’m off base??? Republicans put their names on the ballot, Democrats put their names on the ballot, more people voted against the Democrats than they did Republicans, simple as that. R’s didn’t have to resort to underhanded tactics, the electorate didn’t like D’s policies, didn’t like D’s results, didn’t like D’s. They probably won’t be much more pleased with R’s next time around.

    What do you expect them to do, everything Obama and his crew stand for goes against every fiber of our being, if Obama succeeds we are nothing more than Europe West, we don’t want that. Why would we support that? Were you guys rooting for a win in Iraq? Be truthful. Of course not, because if we had gone in there and turned everything around in a year it was have shown we can do it anywhere and you don’t want to live in a world where America can take over a country at will. If R’s don’t like what the Fed has planned, they are duty bound to speak out, that is why they were elected. D’s still have two thirds of our government, they still have control of the judiciary nominees, what they fear is the folks have spoken, they don’t want what the D’s want and the folks will give full control the R’s in two years if they don’t slow down and start to compromise, so Krugman et al are trying to turn the tables on the R’s making them villains, not just players. The party out of office has the job of being the loyal opposition, the Krugmans and Limbaughs of the world have the job of demagogue, it’s what they do, it is how the game is played.

    If you can, try and watch what happens in the next year and a half from a detached standpoint, it will be interesting. Both sides will be playing every trick in the book, constantly realigning themselves, constantly maneuvering, conceding one advantage while gaining another. Much like a battle in the days of tall ships, both sides knowing they are fighting the same winds while fighting to gain position on their opponents, knowing any mistake can be fatal, always trying to get in position to cross the tee.

  5. Smith Says:

    “Democrats have a long history of being spoil sports”

    The Republicans, on the other hand, have always been paragons of virtue and sportsmanship. What kind of delusions are you living with, shcb?

  6. Smith Says:

    Good trolling, jbc. You got the local intellectual midget all riled up.

  7. knarlyknight Says:

    All riled up but unable to address the arguments presented in a logical fashion.

    shcb, By the way, if America was able to invade Iraq or other dangerous, large crazy countries and impose its will and bring a peaceful society where the people and their culture could move forward in no violence or in a spiral of lessening violence then I would be all in favour of such military interventions. Sadly, the results are the exact opposite that is why I am opposed to America using such EVIL means. Looks like Bush is getting closer to the Gulags, judging by the British press recently.

  8. shcb Says:

    Where do you want me to start? Krugman is the easiest since he is blessed with economic illiteracy. His claim Republicans are holding up unemployment payments is correct but his blessing doesn’t allow him to understand why economically or politically.

    JBC’s and the rest’s entire premise is so flawed it’s hard to know where to start, now there is a smidge of truth sprinkled in there of course, but only little flakes here and there.

  9. Smith Says:

    “Krugman is the easiest since he is blessed with economic illiteracy.”

    And yet you still failed to present any evidence to refute his claims. Your comment could be summed up as “Krugman is a poopy-head”. This is why so few people bother to engage you in an intelligent fashion. You work on the level of school yard insults, so the easiest way to deal with you is to respond in kind. Anything else is a waste of effort. I learned that lesson quite a while ago.

  10. shcb Says:

    The states are already in debt to the US to the tune of 30 or 40 billion, money that will never be repaid. Unemployment is an insurance policy at the state level, the feds only get involved if the state benefits have expired, they have, and the fed level has expired. This bill gives states a blank check to cover all overruns, supposedly this money will be repaid, but we know it won’t. One of the problems with that is it encourages states like California to continue its destructive socialistic ways. As long as someone is there to bail it out, socialism works.

    Since unemployment is an insurance policy money is paid in during good times and taken out during bad, since this recession has gone on as long as it has most states are running in the red, even if they have money left it is past the threshold where current premiums are adequate so prices are being raised. This is not an encouragement to employers to hire more people since the cost of that employee is higher, so they don’t hire and the downward spiral continues, allowing the states to borrow into perpetuity just exasperates this situation.

    Politically this is a hot ticket item the Republicans can use to keep the Democrats from raising taxes in the form of allowing the tax cuts to expire, something that will hurt the economy even more, leading companies to hire less and make the above spiral ever more severe. Is that enough or would you like me to continue?

    So much simpler to just say the Republicans only want to stop Obama.

  11. shcb Says:

    Let’s try another. “McConnell has clarified that his key goal in the Senate is to cause Barack Obama to lose in 2012 which if McConnell understands the situation correctly means doing everything in his power to reduce economic growth.” No, McConnell wants to defeat Obama, but if the economy is in the tank they both may lose. He wants the economy to bounce back but he wants the electorate to give him credit, not Obama. Big difference.

  12. shcb Says:

    “You work on the level of school yard insults” one of the stereotypical traits of liberals is that they will routinely accuse their opponents of doing something they are doing even if their opponents aren’t doing it. Can anyone honestly looked me in the eye and tell me that this isn’t the case with Smith?

  13. Smith Says:

    “tell me that this isn’t the case with Smith?”

    Gee, it is almost as if the rest of my comment says exactly that.

    “so the easiest way to deal with you is to respond in kind. Anything else is a waste of effort. I learned that lesson quite a while ago.”

    Quote mine much? Or are you just too damn stupid to read less than six lines of text? I’m betting on the latter.

  14. shcb Says:

    You’re so funny! Whenever I think I should reassess my stereotypes of liberals, you always pull me out of my funk.

  15. shcb Says:

    Sorry but I had to bail on that conversation, it was just too circular for me to continue right then, you complain I know nothing so why bother, they I show I do know something, but you still haven’t proven you know anything, then you say “see I’m right, he knows nothing”. At that point I have one of those Lewis Black moments where I think my head might explode.

  16. enkidu Says:

    “Krugman is the easiest since he is blessed with economic illiteracy.”

    The guy who won a Nobel in Economics is ‘illiterate’
    this one had me chuckling for days while I read the various links
    great post jbc

    The analogy does not fit 1:1, although there seems to be a disturbing amount of congruence. I am sure Rethuggles think of Obama and every Democrat (except Joe Lieberman) as the Sunnis viewed American forces in Iraq: invaders (or invader usurper kenyan marxist fascist mudhut sociamalists in the case of the Rs). I think they will do anything, or more properly, anything they can get away with, to win. And then they’ll do some more bad stuff beyond that.

    Not sure I completely agree w Drum. Tho the FDA bill just passed, so some minor stuff might actually get done. START2 – which is a national security priority, as it would bring back inspectors to Russia’s nukes and reduce both totals considerably – is probably dead because Rs want party over country. Apparently at – almost – any price. How high a cost? Kyl gets his weregeld but won’t allow any success for Obama/Dems.

    If we keep going out on the spectrum of ‘they’d do anything’ we are just a skip and a jump away from Truther territory. Maybe that just makes the 9/11 Truther stuff all the more likely? meh

  17. Smith Says:

    “I know nothing so why bother, they I show I do know something, but you still haven’t proven you know anything, then you say “see I’m right, he knows nothing”. ”

    Wow, you don’t get it at all. You can see the results of some serious reading comprehension failure in that quote. My comments are pretty short, it shouldn’t take that long for you to read over them slowly enough for you to understand what is being said.

  18. shcb Says:

    You know, I have no idea what you’re talking about and you don’t care what I’m talking about, don’t think there is much chance of communication there, so I guess I’m dumb as box of rocks and you’re an arrogant SOB.

  19. leftbehind Says:

    I think JBC keeps all of you around because you make him look smarter in comparison.

  20. shcb Says:

    You are probably rite.

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