If, as seems more and more likely, the Democrats take control of the House, we will hear much crowing on the left about the part that the War in Iraq played in the GOP’s downfall. They will demand that the President now come up with a plan that would bring the troops home in a specified period of time.
Democrats will tell you that they will tie that timetable to real progress by the Iraqi government and military in getting a handle on the security situation and other benchmarks. The problem is a simple one:
DOES ANYONE REALLY BELIEVE THAT IF ONE OF THOSE BENCHMARKS HASN’T BEEN ACHIEVED THAT THE DEMOCRATS WILL ALLOW THE TIMETABLE TO SLIP?
They will argue that the timetable is more important than any “artificial” measurement of progress and agitate for the withdrawal anyway. In fact, I would fully expect the Democrats to use the published timetable as a political club, constantly beating the Republicans over the head with the fact that the war is not going according to the schedule they so carefully set down. At the very least, they’ll have one more thing about which to Blame Bush and, because wars tend not to cooperate when politicians set down arbitrary conditions for its ending, the Dems will have a field day until November of 2008 at the Republican’s expense.
The problem with this “anti-war mandate” that we will be hearing so much about over the next few days and weeks is that it only seems to exist in the minds of of war opponents. That’s because, from where I sit, there is no talk from the candidates here in Illinois about leaving Iraq at all or any kind of “anti-war” sentiment whatsoever.
Melissa Bean (Ill eight), a freshman Democrat running in a marginally red district and considered extremely vulnerable hasn’t even mentioned the war in her ads which effectively skewer her opponent as a right wing extremist. (That’s okay because, well, he is.) And perhaps most surprisingly, Democratic candidate Tammie Duckworth, an Iraq War vet and double amputee running in the hotly contested sixth district of Illinois, is running an ad that, if I were in her district, would make me comfortable with voting for her. Nowhere does she express an iota of anti-war sentiment in the ads. Instead, she concentrates on trying to get the President to “change course” as well as make sure our troops have everything they need.
I have a theory about what’s going on in the country with people’s ambivalent feelings toward the war. And to illustrate it, allow me to pose a counterfactual for you.
Suppose D-Day had failed and the allies had been thrown back into the sea. Most of our airborne troops dead or captured. The assault waves decimated. Instead of the more than 2,000 men who sacrificed their lives on the beaches of Normandy, the number of dead could have approached ten times that.
Even worse, Hitler would have been able to transfer the bulk of his western armies to the east and possibly defeat Stalin’s Russia given that another invasion was out of the question for at least a year. And an extended war in Europe would have meant a possible delay in throwing our best at Japan.
What would the American people have done when they went to the polls in November of 1944?
If Wendell Wilkie and the Republicans could have framed the election around the idea that they could do a better job in running the war and bringing victory, I daresay FDR and the Democrats would have been in enormous trouble.
But we don’t have that situation today because the Democrats refuse to acknowledge anything but defeat in Iraq. They have set parameters that don’t even define victory, only withdrawal and, given what is happening in Iraq at the moment, a humiliating defeat as we retreat and leave the battlefield to al-Qaeda.
Bush/Rummy/Cheney have made every mistake that was possible to make in Iraq and then blundered some more. But this is not Viet Nam. The American people are not resigned to stalemate and defeat. If you were to ask 100 Americans “If there were a way to win the War in Iraq, would you support our staying there until the job was done?”... my guess would be a very healthy percentage would answer in the affirmative.
This is why Democrats are not running “anti-war” ads – except true blue liberals like Ned Lamont. And look what’s happening to him.
All of this brings up the point that there is not going to be an “anti-war mandate” despite what you may hear from the left after the election. The American people want victory. And at this point, given the alternatives, even a timetable sounds like it could be spun as a win.
Try another counterfactual, this one more recent: Suppose the Democrats had run on a platform that they had a plan that could bring us victory in Iraq. Suppose they were willing to raise troop levels, get serious about training the Iraqi military, tell Maliki to shove it and take off after Mookie and his militia and finish the job that should have been done 2 years ago – kill the bastard and destroy his ability to make trouble.
I don’t think the Republicans would have had a prayer. They would have been steamrolled.
At bottom, when given the choice between victory and defeat, the American people choose to win. And if, by some miracle, the Republicans hold onto the House tomorrow, it won’t be because they deserve it or because they’ve managed the legislative branch so expertly. It will be because in the end, the American people made this election a referendum on who best would pursue victory in Iraq. And that just might be the most shocking surprise of all.