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November 13, 2006

What Did America Vote For In Iraq?

I'm not sure. My more optimistic side says that the American people didn't decide to run from a fight they can't afford to lose, but rather chose to express their lack of confidence in the manner in which the war was being fought. And perhaps they decided that Bush's stewardship on the war was simply not strong enough to overcome other considerations, such as scandal and overspending.

On the other hand, it's possible that the American people do want to cut and run -- they just don't want to call it that. A lot of times voters wish to be deceived. There's really no way to simulataneously cut taxes, increase spending, and still balance the budget, for example, and yet in many elections the public seems to want precisely that -- and they reward whichever party is better at pretending all three can be had together. They reward whichever party, in other words, is more credible in promising the incredible to the willingly credulous.

So perhaps the American people really do simply want to give up on confronting global terrorism -- they just needed a party to tell them that doing so was honorable (when in fact it was dishonorable), courageous (when in fact it was cowardly), and wise (when in fact it is incredibly dangerous and ill-advised).

In the past, politics largely did stop at the water's edge. Not this time. The Democrats have decided that a military defeat that endangers America for decades to come may not be in America's national-security interest, but it is definitely in their own political interest, and so have campaigned to undermine the war and the very idea of the use of American power in a way scarcely seen before.

True enough, many Democratic appeals were, superficially, made upon the question of the competence of the war's management, not the necessity or nobleness of the war's mission. But many more appeals were made upon precisely that latter ground, and even those who claimed they still had victory as a priority did so equivocally.

Cutting and running is not necessarily an irrational choice, depending on one's beliefs. If one simply believes the war to be essentially unwinnable, then it makes sense to no longer waste American soldiers' lives to win what cannot be won. If some believe that being in Iraq ties us down too much and prevents us from taking necessary action (or at least offering a credible threat) against Iran, abandoning a difficult war of secondary importance may make some sense.

However, it seems to me that whatever the wisdom or folly of attempting to rebuild Iraq and impose order through American patrols, the consequences of losing will be, if not catastrophic, at least in the general neighborhood of catastrophe. The notion that the nation will be more emboldened to take out the core of evil -- Iran -- after a disasterous defeat and retreat from Iraq strikes me as borderline insane. More likely will be another 30 years of the Vietnam syndrome -- American self-doubt and reluctance to act in its interests, the encouraging of enemies from Tehran to Islamabad -- at perhaps the moment when American resolve is most necessary.

We did in fact survive the loss of Vietnam. But that was because Vietnam was never truly vital to American interests. Communist domination of Southeast Asia was disadvantageous to America, but not truly threatening to the lives and liberties of Americans, as the Al Qaedists and their millions of Islamist supporters most decidedly are. The "dominoes" never really fell as was long claimed should Saigon fall.

In the current war, there will be dominos falling aplenty should America lose. Or simply decide it's no longer much interested in violent confrontation with the apocalyptically psychpathic.

Even a frustrating and bloody stalemate in Iraq is preferrable, I think, to an actual military defeat. For we will not just lose in Iraq. We will lose in Syria, and Gaza, and Lebanon, and Pakistan, and dozens of other Muslim nations as well, including, of course, in Iran.

There is chatter that Bush, now chastened and perhaps seeking to improve his own legacy, will acquiesce easily in all of this. If he does so, he will in fact go down as one of the worst Presidents in history, by nearly universal reckoning. The liberals will despise him for getting into Iraq and the conservatives and many moderates will despise him for so willingly getting out.

I hope that isn't the case. But I have a bad feeling about all of this. Before I viewed the Global War on Terror as being much more difficult than I'd hoped. Now I view it all as a likely defeat -- on all fronts -- unless something in the American temperament changes quickly, or unless some bold new strategy changes the facts on the ground.

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posted by Ace at 03:46 PM

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