The current Democratic weakness in opposing Bush's war could have fatal long-term consequences for the party -- as well as for our troops -- now that Democrats have largely abandoned efforts to push for firm timelines on withdrawal. (Today, The Washington Post reports, this cave-in to Bush is being repackaged as "incremental" change.)
By allowing the war to drag on with over 100,000 troops likely to be in place by next November, the party is dooming itself to long-term disaster, unless Congressional Democrats find the will to effectively oppose the war (if pushed successfully by anti-war groups). That's because the complete unraveling of Iraq and much of the Middle East will likely take place on their watch, not under Bush, when a Democratic president begins large-scale pullouts on behalf of a public clamoring for change, a long-overdue withdrawal that will take place without the necessary planning for a safe, fully-funded, responsible withdrawal that should have started years ago.
As Juan Cole astutely points out this week:
The central question is whether the Democrats can force a significant reduction of troops from Iraq on Bush's watch, so as to avoid Iraq becoming exclusively their headache when they (as is likely) take over the White House in January of 2009. If they could, this drawdown would be the best option. Certainly, that is what a majority of Iraqis thinks, according to the new BBC/ABC poll.
But the answer is: No. The Democrats cannot get the troops out of Iraq because they cannot overturn a Bush veto in the House of Representatives, and because they cannot overcome the need for a consensus of 60 senators in the Senate. Some Democrats, such as Joe Lieberman, oppose a rapid withdrawal. And the likelihood that 11 Republican senators will suddenly become withdrawalniks between now and November, 2008, is negligible.
The testimony of Petraeus and Crocker may marginally reinforce the will of the Republicans to stay the course, but I do not think it is decisive. In all likelihood, the Republican senators would have continued to block their Democratic colleagues from doing anything really dramatic, anyway.
If the Democrats cannot prevail in withdrawing before Bush goes out of office (and they cannot), and if they then rapidly draw down the troops on taking office in 2009, they face the real prospect of a "Gerald Ford meltdown" of the sort that occurred in 1975 when the North Vietnamese and their VC allies took over South Vietnam.
You will note that Ford only served a couple of years as president and lost his election bid to a relative unknown named Jimmy Carter. Although economic stagflation and the stain of Watergate contributed to his defeat, I think the spectacle of the debacle in Indochina harmed Ford a great deal. The United States lost a war, and lost out to its ideological rival in an entire subcontinent of Asia in the midst of the Cold War. That would cause at least some Republicans to stay home in 1976, a sure way for Democrats to win an election.
Could 2010 look for Iraq like 1975 looked in Vietnam? Yes. I just do not see evidence that either the new Iraqi political class or the Iraqi security forces are likely to have the maturity to avoid a conflagration when the U.S. military withdraws.
The Democrats are still struggling to shake off 60 years of being derided as traitors and weak on national security, as analyzed by one of the GOP conservatives who helped contribute to the tarring of Democrats, Pat Buchanan, in a column called "Why the anti-war Democrats will retreat." Obviously, he despises Democrats and progressive principles, but he's accurately diagnosed the Democrats' ailments on national security; in fact national security is its "third-rail" issue, as shown by their caving on the FISA warantless wiretapping in August.. This continuing weakness has been ably diagnosed by Glenn Greenwald in Salon in discussing the hypocritical rantings generated by the controversial Moveon.org ad on General Petraeus. He highlights this quote from Buchanan:
What happened to the party of Speaker Pelosi and Reid, which was going to end U.S. involvement in the war and not permit Bush to pursue victory the way Richard Nixon pursued it in Vietnam for four years?
Answer: Terrified of the possible consequences of the policies they recommend, Democrats lack the courage to impose those policies.
When it comes to issues of war, Democrats are an intimidated lot. Sens. Clinton, Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Reid were all stampeded by Bush into voting him a blank check for war in October 2002. Why? Because they feared Bush would declare them weak or unpatriotic if they denied him the authority to go to war, at a time of his choosing, until he had made a more compelling case for war.
Now they regret what they did. But, in a showdown, they will do it again. For Democrats have been psychologically damaged by 60 years of GOP attacks on them as the party of retreat and surrender.
Greenwald points out, "It really is the height of strangeness to witness the shrieking and self-righteous rage over the MoveOn ad as though such insinuations are prohibited in American political debates, the Line that Cannot be Crossed. That line is crossed routinely, and has been for decades, including when directed at a whole array of American combat veterans. Ask George McGovern about that. The only difference this time -- the sole difference that has so upset Joe Klein and his fellow media mavens -- is that it is being directed at the side that typically wields such accusatory rhetoric, rather than by them. "
But what's more depressing, actually, is the conventional wisdom in Washington now, after the Petraeus testimony, that a huge troop presence is required through the end of 2008. Bush wanted to buy time to kick-the-can of the Iraq war into a Democratic administration, and he's succeeded. As Greenwald summarizes the current thinking:
[It] is inescapably clear to everyone (rather than just bloggers) that we will remain in Iraq in full force through the end of the Bush presidency, and... according to a Fox News report this morning, "'everyone in town' is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely timeframe for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months"....
Endless war and dying in Iraq, while planning for an Iran attack continues apace. What will it take for Congress to put a halt to this madness?