Patricia Lopez’s look this morning at the evolution of Al Franken’s thinking about the Iraq war raises a good many questions. Here are a few:
One way to interpret the facts Lopez reviews is this: Neither of the DFL’s leading Senate candidates was a bold, public opponent of the Iraq war when that was a risky thing to be.
Does this matter? Or — considering that the same could be said of several top Democratic presidential hopefuls — is a candidate’s current position on the war the only thing that counts?
If previous public positions, or the lack of same, don’t matter so far as the Iraq debate is concerned, could the candidates’ history on the war still be significant in another way? Might it reveal something telling about how they may respond to unknown future controversies that prove complex, confusing, and politically hazardous?
Issues may well arise during a six-year Senate term about which we know little or nothing today. What do Franken’s and Ciresi’s responses to Iraq suggest about their likely conduct in the face of the next high-pressure debate?
If candidates’ war records do matter in some fashion, who has the more impressive (or otherwise) record?
Is it Franken, who publicly supported the war and only with time turned against it because he at first trusted the administration and later worried about the consequences of a pullout?
Or is it Ciresi, who disapproved of the war from the outset but for years took no public step to express that oppostion?
Beyond his views on the Iraq mission specifically, does this story illuminate a Franken philosophy on military policy that could displease some liberals? Does it, for example, suggest that he embraces the concept of pre-emptive war under some circumstances — say, if the threat to be pre-empted were real and the adventure was not incompetently and corruptly conducted?
At the same time, does the Franken who comes into focus in this story differ in important ways from the caricature his critics like to draw? Is this the angry extremist they often portray — wrestling with himself over the right course in Iraq, admiring the sacrifice of American troops, even empathizing with the difficulties of those he disagrees with?
Or does this look like someone whose first instinct was to set partisanship aside where national security was concerned, until unraveling events in Iraq caused him to lose faith in the policy?
Meanwhile, if Franken’s evolving sentiments on the war soften and complicate his political image, don’t they also, as Ciresi warns, make it harder to portray Sen. Norm Coleman’s changing views as opportunistic and implausible?
If Franken can honorably struggle with the issue and reposition himself — particularly as he has lost confidence in the Iraqi government — why not Coleman?