Sunday, August 28


Frank Rich is right. Democrats risk irrelevancy as long as they support continuing the Iraq War. Should a Democrat stake out such a position ("we can still win this thing if only someone more competent than Bush was prosecuting it') and win the presidency in 2008, it won't be long before the Democratic Party owns this war -- it will be quickly forgotten that it was the Republicans who got us into this mess.

It's 1968 all over again, with the parties flipped. LBJ, a Democrat, escalated the conflict in Vietnam he inherited from JFK into a full-fledged war and after 3-4 years had to face the fact that he could not win re-election because of it. Richard Nixon, who in his turn inherited it from LBJ after his own election in 1968, was determined not to be the first American president to lose a war and made the disastrous mistake of trying to continue the war "under new management." He had a "secret plan to end the war," he said, as if management was the problem, not the war or the rationales for it themselves. Nixon and his party, I suppose in a fervor of nationalism, refused to brand the conflict as a mistake and continued to beat the drums of patriotism and the domino theory. Four more years was enough to bring the American public to the realization that the Vietnam War was a dreadful, dreadful mistake. What's more, it was now Nixon's war, not LBJ's, and Republicans eventually paid a political price for that sentiment.

Now most of our Democratic leaders are echoing Nixon's mistake. Once again, it's the management, not the policy, that's in error. Polls show that a majority of Americans don't agree with them. Biden, Kerry, Clinton et al say if only we would throw more troops into Iraq things would turn out differently. Where, precisely, do they propose getting those troops? And why, precisely, do they think that even a defeat of the "insurgents" would discourage conflict between the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi'ites? The problem is, the hawks still don't understand that the insurgents are not, Vietnam style, representing a single ideology or identity. They're composed of former Ba'athists, ordinary Iraqis who want their country won back from the invading Americans, foreign fighters, and, most significantly, adherents of various clerics and Islamic ideologies. Our staying or going is not going to change the fact that we've already broken Iraq, we've allowed it to fragment it, and we simply can't paste it back together again.

I've read the arguments of many whom I respect in the blogosphere that we have to win the 2006 and 2008 elections in order to change the course of the war (and our own nation), and that we can't do that with a "dove" at the head of the ticket. I reject that as a fallacy. The trick is not to endorse the Bush mission but to change the positioning of the Democrats. Our leader mustn't pretend that it was right to vote for the war but that Bush has bungled it. He or she should insist that we were deceived and that now we know it was a terrible error to invade Iraq, and that continuing it will break the Army and the Guard and ruin our chances of fighting global terrorism, protecting our borders and securing our homeland from the very real threats that now and might in the future threaten the country. We can talk militarily tough all we want so as to avoid the George McGovern syndrome, but we mustn't for one minute suggest that Bush was right. If we elect a Democratic hawk, we'll own this disastrous war, and we'll get the blame for years to come for a situation we inherited and could not win.

Because make no mistake -- there is no way to win in Iraq.


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