Strapping on a Pair

Robin Toner has a useful news analysis piece in today’s Times on the emerging consensus among Democrats to press for a troop pullout from Iraq by 2008. The unity of the new congress on the issue is indeed surprising, given the long-standing tendency of Democrats  to act like a squealing Victorian lady standing on a chair with skirts bunched to her petticoat as the question of Iraq scurried around the room. (To be fair, they weren’t in power for any of that time, and you don’t get to be in power, pace the left-wing of the party, by proposing withdrawal early and often, at a time when the American people aren’t willing to admit America has lost and when there was a still a chance it might achieve at least some of its objectives.) But then again the Democrats would have been crazy to try and side-step the issue given that frustration over the war is what brought them to power.

For his part, President Bush, in his customary manner of running the executive like a cocky rich-kid at the wheel of his daddy’s fancy car, is essentially daring the Democrats to a game of political chicken (or should that be chicken-hawk?), promising to veto any troop pullout. That would leave the Democrats with only one other option: cut off the money for the American military effort. This, obviously, would put the Dems in a rather uncomfortable position. They have no desire to be pegged as the party that failed the troops in the field and lost the war by pulling back on the purse-strings. It’s much the same myth that allowed the Republicans to cast Democrats as pinko pansies who cut and run from Vietnam, thereby betraying our boys and spitting on mom’s apple pie. (Then again, some of that was warranted given what huge pussies the Democrats became over nuclear disarmament and any use of force whatsoever.)

But there isn’t a snowflake’s chance in hell – the place Iraq is coming most closely to resemble – that Bush is going to pull out before his term ends. He has no political incentive to do so and his pride would not allow it. More American soldiers are going to die for his pride, and they will die for political calculation and cowardice too unless the Democrats decide not to dither, or to bide their time in the hopes of seizing the White House in the next election.

America is losing the Iraq war. Short of deploying hundreds of thousands more troops that it doesn’t have and occupying the country under martial law for the next decade or longer, there is nothing its military can do to create a unified, democratic Iraq or even provide a modicum of order and security that would be worth the sacrifice of American lives. Avoiding the humiliation of withdrawal is not worth the daily humiliations of being exposed as hapless against suicide bombings, roadside ambushes, and death-squad rampages, nor is securing the oil supply from which America should be doing everything it can to ween itself worth the cost in blood and treasure. America should make provision for the security of the Kurds and the safe passage of those who have helped the coalition or feel their lives are in danger, and leave.

“Many strategists are already warning that over the long haul, it is not enough to be antiwar: the Democrats need a strong, affirmative vision of foreign policy,” writes Toner. And they’re absolutely right. But what’s needed now is for the Democrats to force this debate and see it through. In this game of chicken, flinching will be the death of more brave Americans.

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