For anyone with a taste for often malicious and usually incompetent war politics, the last four years have been a banquet — with the table now, in its fifth year, even more heavily laden.
As an early and continuing strong supporter of President Bush’s war effort, I nonetheless regularly have criticized his administration’s inept communications and war fighting strategies — particularly in the years 2004-2006. Along with many others, I was both exasperated and puzzled by the gap between the magnitude of the president’s bold enterprise and the stingy assignment of material resources (men and material), and diplomatic energy with which he provisioned it. Also historically noteworthy has been the painfully slow learning curve, non-instinct for experimentation and the stubborn inflexibility of their strategy and tactics in the face of evident shortcomings.
But what was perhaps most inexplicable (because most easily remedied) was the administration’s dead-in-the-water communications effort to explain the war to the public in the face of continuing malicious and dishonest criticism from the war critic. From the spring of 2002, the president had made a persuasive geo-political argument for war — of which the threat from weapons of mass destruction was only one part.
But when he decided to go to the United Nations in the fall of 2002, WMDs was the only topic the United Nations considered relevant (because it was the only subject of Iraqi-violated U.N. resolutions). By failing to loudly, publicly and remorselessly reiterate the broader purposes of the war (as President Bush ably laid out just once at his February 2003 American Enterprise Institute speech), he permitted WMDs to be seen by the public as the only reason for the war.
From the fall of 2003, once it had become clear that Saddam’s WMD program had been at least temporarily put on the back burner before the war, the Bush White House passively permitted itself to be pummeled by anti-war critics and most of the national and international press — literally for years — with no vigorous media effort to publicly revivify the broader purposes of the war.
Although the Republican Party has a historically unprecedentedly deep bench of renowned and very credible foreign and military policy experts, no effort was made to organize and rally these experts to get into the media both here and in Europe to help re-shape the debate. The Bush White House has paid a terrible price for this failure to reach out to its friends — a result, no doubt, of its astonishingly insular and unjustifiably cocky disposition on all matters both substantive and procedural.
Nonetheless, for all their mismanagement of a still vital and noble struggle, the Bush team has better served our cause than has the Democratic Party served its interests in its near unanimous opposition to the war recently. Theirs has been the most blatantly unprincipled war opposition short of treason in living memory — and the Democratic Party is likely to pay a fearsome price at the polls for a generation.
Their national defense policy, “if such a farrago of myopic expedience and folly can be so described” (a phrase used by Christopher Tyerman on a different issue) amounts to neither supporting the war effort nor admitting that they prefer to live with the consequences of its failure. There is an honorable (if, I believe, foolhardy) case to be made for the proposition that the price to our national interest of defeat is less than the price of persisting in the war effort. The Democrats are too cowardly to make that case.
So they consciously try to fool the public into thinking that the war objectives (of a stable neutral or friendly Iraq that is not a continuing threat to American security) is more likely to be achieved by our promptly giving up than by our staying. They argue with a straight face that the current Iraqi politicians (I hesitate to call them a government) would succeed in gaining order if only they were not supported by 150,000 American troops. No serious person believes that.
From severe war critic Gen. Anthony Zinni to the liberal Brookings Institute — the danger of defeat and withdrawal is recognized and accepted. Absent American military support, the Iraqi politicians would promptly flee — not govern. And then regional (if not broader) hell would break out.
The political irony is that for the Democratic Party, their best hope for electoral triumph in 2008 is for things to stay about the same in Iraq. If things should get better — if the re-enforcements (aka: surge) permit the emergence of a genuine Iraqi government that gains popular confidence that suppresses the worst of the sectarian violence — the Democrats will be seen as having been needlessly defeatist and will be trounced in the next election.
And if things get much worse in Iraq and the Middle East, their evident zest for defeat and total absence of either an instinct or a policy for American national security is not likely to induce trust in an American voting public then facing a much more dangerous and unraveling world. Democratic Party cynicism may be a good starter — but it will be a bad finisher.