January 13, 2006
Bush Skating Circles Around the Democrats
It's always painful
watching President Bush skate circles around the Democrats. Believe
me, I take no pleasure in the sight.
Bush's figure eights
were on display recently when he warned Democrats to tread carefully
on the war issue in the midterm-election campaign. Speaking before
the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he said Americans know the difference
between "honest critics" and "defeatists who refuse
to see that anything is right."
asked Bush spokesman Scott McClellan whether the president was
stifling dissent. And Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat,
repeated his call for an immediate withdrawal of American troops
Stifle dissent? Are
you kidding? The more leading Democrats talk the wrong way about
Iraq, the better off the Republicans are. Do Democrats think Bush
was offering sage advice to help them in the upcoming elections?
He was setting bait, to which they immediately rose.
seen the recent poll numbers on the war. In an ABC News/Washington
Post poll last month, 53 percent of respondents said the
war was not worth fighting, versus the 47 percent who felt it
was. Only a third saw the war contributing a great deal to our
long-term security, and 59 percent thought the Bush administration
didn't have a clear plan for Iraq.
The war is not popular,
but that doesn't mean Democrats are going to get points for promoting
a we've-been-beat version of the story. Before going on, let's
note that Democratic opinion is diverse, ranging from staunch
support of the war to trafficking in conspiracy theories. But
you know what the public thinks when a top party official like
Howard Dean says, "The idea that we're going to win this
war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong."
Dean should have
taken a cue from another Vermonter, the late Sen. George Aiken.
When the situation in Vietnam appeared desperate, Aiken famously
advised the nation to "declare victory and go home."
'Tis better to declare
victory and go home than to declare defeat and go home. Either
approach has the same result -- we go home -- but the triumphal
withdrawal preserves troop morale and allows a more orderly adjustment.
Democrats understandably want to slam Republicans over a war that's
been costly in lives and treasure, and was based on ginned-up
intelligence. And no one needs reminding that the outcome little
resembles the flower-covered parade to Baghdad, as portrayed in
the pre-war propaganda.
But by wallowing
in defeatist talk, Democrats bring down the general public, along
with their Republican adversaries. Whatever one might think about
the war, we're in it. We have to get out of it in the least messy
way. Demanding immediate withdrawal -- even by a fine defender
of our troops like Murtha -- could unleash new chaos.
not in American interests to assert that nothing good has come
out of the war. For starters, we got rid of the mass murderer
Saddam. For another, a fledgling democracy has been created. Its
survival is no certainty, but the scenes of Iraqis voting -- Sunnis
included, in the last round -- are to be savored.
The crazy thing is
that at this very moment, Bush is doing much of what the Democrats
demand: He's already started bringing the troops home. Reuters
reports that defense officials are looking at a possible reduction
to 100,000 U.S. troops by "later this year."
By "later this
year," I bet they mean by Nov. 7, the date of our midterm
elections. (Karl Rove has also seen the poll numbers showing discontent
with the war.) The plan is clearly in place to declare victory
and come home. As Election Day approaches, expect to see Republicans
bragging that they've already reduced troop levels in Iraq by
a third -- while exaggerating the good things that have happened
Then what will the
Democrats do? What they should do is make a nuanced argument that
the results, while mixed, were on balance not worth the sacrifice.
But are they capable of it?
Assuming they aren't
has been a good wager so far. And that's why Bush and Rove are
probably giggling as they egg on Democrats to make more intemperate
remarks. The amazing thing is that the Democrats haven't figured
2005 Creators Syndicate