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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why the Democrats Can't Stop the Iraq War

Sen. Aikman once famously said of the war in Vietnam that we should just declare that we have won and leave. Why the hell not?

The Arab world, despite regular defeats, need desperately to be able to come up with a meaning for "victory" that allows them to have victories even if they would seem to have suffered defeats. I think the essence of this is simply that if you are an underdog and survive you have won. Thus Saddam Hussein could declare victory after the first Gulf War even though he got pushed out of Kuwait and was forced to endure no fly zones in the North and South and regular UN investigations simply because he survived and Iraq survived with the same borders it had before Saddam invaded Kuwait. Even if the US and UK were to kick all of the Insurgents out of Iraq and impose a peace settlement between Sunnis and Shiites, you can be damn sure that the Insurgents would declare victory for they could claim that they killed lots of American and British soldiers and they were still alive as a functioning body. Hezbollah did this after being pushed away from the Israeli-Lebanese border which they had previously occupied and seeing Lebanon ruined by Israeli attacks of various sorts.

The US is not accustomed to defeat. We have defeated the Spanish, the Brits, the Mexicans, the mighty Panamanians, the mighty Grenadians, who live on a tiny Island previously unknown to most Americans I would imagine, and hosts of other countries. There have been setbacks. Reagan basically cut and ran after the Marine barracks in Beirut was bombed. However, we were on a peace keeping mission, rather than engaged in war, so there was no real defeat per se. But the Lebanese experience was humiliating and that may have been why Reagan invaded Grenada. It distracted us and possibly salvaged a bit of our pride.

The Korean War is officially not over so we haven't lost it yet. Moreover, S. Korea has endured so we, or rather the UN, could claim a victory in that regard. However, we got our butts kicked in Vietnam. The lesson of Vietnam was that we shouldn't get into foreign wars in which you can not tell the enemy from the good guys and where the enemy can melt into sanctuaries in the jungle or desert sands or wherever, sanctuaries which they can use for R & R and resupply.

Seeing Iraq as a potential Vietnam took some insight. I didn't see that coming but my main man, with whom I was exchanging daily e-mails on the subject long before the war, did. The problem is that Iraq turned out to be not only just like Vietnam in that enemy and friend look alike and that the bad guys were able to melt into the cities and desert just as the Vietnamese melted into the jungles, but was even worse in that there was an unseen potential for serious sectarian violence. This has turned into an unwinnable war. Too bad Bush didn't order our troops to leave after he proclaimed "Mission Accomplished." That way the US could have had a victory.

The Democrats are trying to stop the war. The problem with that is that you can't just stop a war without verbally characterizing what you are doing and the Democrats haven't come up with a verbal characterization that works. Consider the proposal of some Democrats that we should set a firm date for total withdrawal of our troops. Some Republicans immediately called it our "surrender" date. Bush has called such a policy a "cut and run" p0licy. In short, the Republicans have names for that policy that disparage it to such a degree that the Democrats as a whole could never back it. The Democrats do have only one policy that would work for them in the sense that it can be characterized in a positive way and is furthermore acceptable to most Americans. This is the proposal that we set firm benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet on certain dates. If they are able to meet these benchmarks, the Democrats (and Bush, for that matter) could declare victory. If they don't meet these benchmarks, then the Democrats could claim that we helped the Iraqis enough that they should have been able to meet these guidelines. This would warrant the claim that the Iraqis lack the will to engage in useful nation building and thus the failure is theirs not ours. Bush cannot accept this proposal because Bush knows that the Democrats will claim forever that he and the party that supported hem got us into an unwinable war.

Note: One thing I keep forgetting to say in connection with benchmarks and it is important and this is that Bush doesn't want benchmarks with firm dates by which they must be met (or else something or other bad will happen) is that critics can claim his plan isn't working any time a date has past without the associated benchmark being met and he cannot claim that things are hunky dory. With no benchmarks Bush can say that things are going according to his (never to be revealed) plan and no one gan gainsay him.

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