Why Democrats should punt on a plan for Iraq

There are just eight days until the midterm elections. That pungent smell of rancid urine is not from trying to litter train your new puppy. It is from all the Republicans wetting their pants. It would be an understatement to say the Republicans are nervous. They are plain scared. They can feel power slipping away. Some like Republican strategist Karl Rove feign optimism. Nevertheless, by now even Republicans can feel the political earthquake approaching. The question now becomes, what will its magnitude be?

President Bush has been running around the country engaged in, what else, blaming Democrats. This is not new of course, but what is new is that he is blaming Democrats for his mistakes. “The Democratic goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq”, he said today at Georgia Southern University. “If you listen carefully for a Democrat plan for success, they don’t have one. Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, yet they don’t have a plan for victory.” President Bush has a point. It is hard to find any Democrat with a plan for winning with Iraq that passes the sniff test. Such as they are, most Democrats are calling for beginning a withdrawal of troops in 2007. They also want to involve regional powers in Iraq’s future. Mostly though Democrats sound wishy-washy on how to succeed in Iraq. Instead, they state the obvious by calling attention to Bush’s mismanagement of the War in Iraq. Hmm, maybe that is their plan.

If so, I think it will prove to be very politically effective. By calling attention to the Democrats’ lack of a plan for Iraq, what Bush is really trying to do is get the Democrats to share ownership his failure. He hopes that by showing that they are bereft of good ideas on Iraq, the cloud of doom that has been hanging over him and his party will lift. In this case, the lack of a Democratic plan should be construed as a short-term political blessing for the Democrats. It is a smart election strategy for the Democrats to keep the focus where it belongs: on Bush’s bungling the War in Iraq in particular and the War on Terror in general.

In reality even if Democrats sweep both houses of Congress next week, there is not a whole lot they can do to bring the troops home. They could in theory cut off funding for the war, but they will not have the votes to override a presidential veto. Congress’s power has never been in exercising the war, but in its oversight. However, if they control Congress, Democrats can exercise genuine oversight on the war. This has been sorely lacking with Republicans in charge. However, the power to run the war constitutionally will remain with President Bush. Iraq will remain his albatross for the rest of his life. I believe that its colossal failure will almost certainly make it impossible for a Republican to become elected president in 2008.

Here is the reality of our situation in Iraq, if it is not already apparent to you: we have lost. As I alluded before the war even started, we would lose because we had insufficient troops to secure the peace. Overthrowing Saddam and his government was a given and a no brainer. It was containing the inevitable and historical sectarian strife, along with occupying a Muslim country with forces perceived to be Christian that were the real obstacles to long term success. This is not to say that hope is entirely lost in Iraq. It is just that success at this point is so bizarrely improbable that only the willfully foolish think it can possibly happen.

No wonder Democrats are mum about a plan for success in Iraq. Unlike Republicans, most Democrats inhabit the real world. They know the situation in Iraq is so bollixed up that even a speculator with tons of spare cash would not waste any money betting on a successful outcome. Given that nothing Democrats can say or do will change this sad reality, why should they assume part of its ownership? If they did, in 2008 voters might assume they would do something equally foolish in the next conflict. It is better to leave Bush and the Republicans holding their ball. If Bush is the nation’s quarterback, the Republicans are on offense, it is fourth down and 99 to go, and there is two seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, it is better that the Republicans take the inevitable fall.

If Democrats must propose plans for the War on Terror, it is far better to focus on where there is some probability of success. Success in Afghanistan is looking dubious, but it is not virtually hopeless as it is in Iraq. Besides, Osama bin Laden is reputedly in Afghanistan, or in nearby northwestern Pakistan. At least we could leverage sufficient forces to go after those who actually hurt us on 9/11.

Besides, things can only improve when those who screwed up this war are out of power. If Democrats win Congress, one of the most effective things they can do is hold many hearings on the war. It needs to be clear that people like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld were instrumental getting us into this mess. They need to account to the American people for their actions in public hearings. Why did Rumsfeld go into Iraq without a plan to win the peace? Why did Cheney forcefully assert Iraq had WMDs when there was no conclusive intelligence? Why were we repeatedly lied to? In making these public officials account for their actions, Democrats can help facilitate their ouster and position our government to being one that is accountable again. Democrats should demand these instigators be replaced with leaders who are grounded in reality.

It is obvious to voters that Bush does not have a viable plan for victory. Stay the course is not working. Democrats should demand that Bush present a viable plan for Iraq’s success. He is after all the Commander in Chief and it is his responsibility. Perhaps in the process, Bush will realize it is time to fold his hand. The reality is he has had nothing to show for years except bluster.

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