Thursday, August 18, 2005

2006 and Iraq

The NYTimes reports that Republican politicians are getting increasingly worried about their prospects in the 2006 elections if things continue to go badly in Iraq. It's too bad the Democrats, given their role as craven lapdogs of the administration in the run-up to and prosecution of the war, are now in no position to guide the public to a saner foreign policy and reap the attendant political benefits. A "leader" should lead, not pander to the latest stampede of public opinion. Of course, listening to the public is important. But it's also important to take a stand on issues you believe in, and help shape public opinion in productive ways. That's why it's a shame virtually no Dems took a principled stand against the war from the start.

The article quotes NY Senator Chuck Schumer:

"There is no question that the Iraq war, without any light at the end of the tunnel apparent to the American people, is becoming more and more a ball and chain rapidly weighing down the administration."

Mr. Schumer, reflecting continued Democratic nervousness at being portrayed as disrespectful of troops, added, "I have been more supportive of the president's war on terror than many Democrats."

Mr. Schumer, you are as responsible for our predicament in Iraq as anyone in Congress. Even now, you refuse to forcefully criticize the President's damaging policies. Here's the line to use: this administration has led our country to a war of choice in which 1,800 U.S. soldiers have died and tens of thousands have been maimed, it has failed to provide necessary logistical support and manpower because the administration can't afford to transparently account for the cost of the war, and has abused the trust of countless reservists who have been effectively drafted into full-time service. That's not "supporting the troops".

Unfortunately, this line of argument would be much more convincing coming from someone who hadn't calculatingly supported the scam in the first place. Kerry tried many of those same arguments, and failed to persuade because he'd been baying for Saddam's blood back when it was politically expedient. The Democrats will remain a minority party so long as they are afraid to lead rather than react.

Update: Kevin Drum predicts that the Iraq issue could splinter the Democratic party in 2006--partly because doves are unwilling to forgive being sold down the river by the party, and partly because no major Democrat has been willing to say "I was wrong, it was a terrible idea from the start, now lets find a workable solution." Drum makes a good case for a managed withdrawal. I've been reluctant in the past to support setting a timetable for withdrawal, since that seemed likely to destabilize the country further, but it's now been 2 1/2 years since the invasion, the situation is not improving much, and we need to get some idea of how long we're going to be there.

It is somewhat incredible that, in the face of the governing party's consistently poor judgment and incompetence in Iraq, no major Democrat has any measurable credibility on the war. Proposing a meaningful alternative to the government's current "wait and see" policy might be a way to start regaining some public trust.

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