Why are some Democrats so eager to give up in Iraq?
The American withdrawal from Iraq has begun. Since January the U.S. has pulled out some 20,000 military personnel, leaving the war-torn country with the smallest number of American troops in almost a year.
That the above hasn't flashed across the country doesn't mean it is any less true than the "news" that did break on Iraq last week. Gen. George W. Casey stunned a few reporters and gave hope to the cut-and-run caucus--which is actually growing in Congress--when he said last week that the U.S. would likely draw down troop levels next year. Some interpreted his comments, which came as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad, as a sign that the administration may be looking for the door.
That's nonsense, of course. After winning an election in part on the promise to continue to wage the war, this president isn't about to abandon Iraq now. In reality, American troop levels are down from a peak earlier this year, when extra troops were on hand to ensure the January elections went off without a hitch. And the U.S. has long planned to cut troop levels when the Iraqis were able to take over the job of hunting down and battling it out with terrorists and insurgents. Whether the U.S. really will cut its force to just 40,000 in Iraq by the end of 2006, the exit strategy has always been victory. Another way to interpret Gen. Casey's comments, then, is as a statement of confidence in Iraqi troop performance.
A persistent chorus, however, continues to sing the praises of retreat. A year ago, as U.S. troops were preparing to clean out Fallujah, and even up to the January elections, this was at least somewhat understandable. After all, war is a tough business. There will always be some voices in a free society to argue that victory isn't worth the sacrifice.
Today the sacrifices have been made, the election is over, a constitution is being hammered out, and all that's left is victory--and victory is inevitable if the U.S. forces continue to stand up Iraqi forces while facing an unpopular insurgency that isn't propped up by a large foreign power. Yet opposition to the war hasn't abated. Indeed, in Congress it's actually gotten more organized. In late June 50 House Democrats formed the Out of Iraq Caucus. The leaders of this cut-and-run caucus last week used Gen. Casey's remarks to publicly lay out their proposed timetable for retreat.
We may come to miss the days when the Kerry campaign was calling the shots for the Democratic Party. At least then, with a national election to win, the party had a reason to stay disciplined, and Mr. Kerry, as the party's standard barer, paid lip service to winning this war. Today Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat and an organizer of the Out of Iraq Caucus, feels no compunction to adhere to anything resembling a national consensus on the war.
The interesting question is where this is all heading for Democrats. There's no election this year, so not much to lose in the short term by opposing the war and plenty of money to be raised by appealing to the Angry Left. But this isn't a cost-free political strategy. One thing that the diminished coverage of the Iraq War indicates is that the U.S. is now making headway and is on the path to winning. Maybe the voters will forget who stood where once the war is won--much the way they did in electing Bill Clinton in 1992, after the Cold War. But that's not a sure bet, nor is it even likely.
One trap Ms. Waters, Mr. Kerry and quite a few Democrats fell into was the idea that the war in Iraq was somehow separate from the war on terror. The American people never really believed that, as polls showed in the run up to the war that many believed Saddam Hussein had something to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. President Bush never made that direct of a connection. Instead the reason for the war in Iraq has long been to transform the politics in the Middle East in our favor.
Saddam is now in prison and awaiting trial at the hands of the people he oppressed. But even once a stable and prosperous democracy is in place in Iraq, the war on terror will not be over. Iraq is a central front, but it's far from the only one. Other battlefields of various sorts can be found in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iran, Syria, Somalia and other nations in the Horn of Africa. And that's not to mention the low-intensity battlefields found in England, France, Germany and the U.S. It's not called the Global War on Terror for nothing.
Once the battle is won in Iraq, the voters are likely to remember who supported the course to victory there because it will be immediately relevant in deciding who might lead us to other victories on other fronts. The only hope Democrats have of winning support for their antiwar activities is if a large-scale attack--on par with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam--convinces Americans this isn't a winnable war. But with the home front under attack and the history of Tet now well understood as a colossal defeat for the communists, it's not a good bet that the American electorate would turn against the war even then.