"Where are you going?" According to the Apostle (John 16:5), Christ urged his followers to ask that question shortly before the tumult of his arrest, trial, execution and resurrection. In the aftermath of this turbulent week, it’s a relevant line of inquiry for President Bush and the new leaders in Congress.
Notwithstanding all the pre-vote hype, post-election polls show that it wasn’t just a wave of anti-war sentiment that swept Democrats into power. Three out of four American voters apparently voted for Democrats because of corruption and scandal in Washington. Fewer than half of those who cast a ballot claimed to be motivated by the prospect that a change in Congress would result in a new approach to the war in Iraq. And it now appears that the war isn’t at the top of the new majority’s agenda, either.
Since the results of Tuesday’s election became obvious, Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly made clear her party’s priorities are: "Jobs, healthcare, education, energy independence, a safer America, a dignified retirement — that’s what the Democrats are all about." What about Iraq? Answer: The Democrats don’t have an easy answer and they have no prescription.
Though some, like Majority Leader wannabe Jack Murtha, made "Get Out Now" a mantra and others advocated "de-funding" U.S. involvement in Iraq, neither is going to happen. Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid want to lead the Congress — and recapture the Oval Office in two years. They don’t want responsibility for a potential failure in Iraq.
Throughout the long congressional campaign season, the only consistency among Democrats was that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to "go," and there had to be "change" in Iraq. Now that the honorable Rumsfeld has tendered his resignation and removed himself as the Bush administration’s lightening rod — and former CIA Director Robert Gates has been nominated to replace him — there has been a sudden awakening in Democrat ranks that they will have a share of the outcome in Iraq.
All that begs the question as to what happens now. If the new majority in Congress wants to tie the Bush administration in knots with investigations and a flurry of subpoenas, they can surely do so. That of course will do nothing to deter Wahabbi terrorists, Shia radicals and the Muslim Brotherhood from pursuing their jihad against us. Nor will it do anything to help the Iraqi government establish security and stability in Mesopotamia.
The challenges ahead are formidable. Notwithstanding Gates’ failure to be confirmed as CIA director when he was nominated for the post in 1987, it now appears as though old opponents like Messrs. Carl Levin and Ted Kennedy will allow the Gates appointment to be "fast tracked" through the Senate. But changing leaders at the Pentagon doesn’t mean things are automatically going to get better.
Until his nomination to become defense secretary this week, Gates has been serving on the so-called bi-partisan Iraq Study Group (ISG), headed by former Secretary of State Jim Baker and retired Rep. Lee Hamilton. Because of the electoral outcome — and Gates’ involvement in preparing the ISG recommendations — the panel’s report is now being viewed in Washington as a panacea for what the Democrats have called the "quagmire" of Iraq. It’s not.
There are no quick fixes in Iraq or Afghanistan. They are but campaigns in a protracted war we did not want — but which we must win. The ISG’s report does offer new perspectives on why it has been so difficult for the Baghdad government to unify the country and provide sufficient security to rebuild Iraq’s shattered economy. And those who believe that negotiations are an end unto themselves will be cheered by encouragement to open a dialogue with Tehran and Damascus on a whole range of issues.
But the president and this new Congress should view skeptically that which equates the jihad being waged against the West with the Arab-Israeli conflict of the last half-century. Even if Israel disappeared tomorrow — as advocated by Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad — Islamic radicals would not cease their apocalyptic quest to re-establish a globe-spanning caliphate. Neither last Tuesday’s election, nor a new defense secretary nor an ISG report can alter that reality.
The shift in power on Capitol Hill may, however, have the salutary effect of forcing Bush to focus on what he will leave behind at the end of his term. It is now clear he will not be allowed to make his tax cuts permanent. Regrettably, he’s not going to go down in history for repairing Social Security. The economy is strong — but all that will be forgotten in a decade. Bush’s legacy is going to be defined by the outcome of what Rumsfeld called this "little understood" war. Hopefully everyone in Washington now knows that our military wins battles, but that only nations can win wars.