Jewish World Review April 16, 2004 / 26 Nissan, 5764
The third way in Iraq and the war on terror
The political action last week was not in Washington at the well-covered Sept. 11 hearings. It was in the streets of Iraq where 60 Americans died and many more are in danger.
President Bush began the week by falling nine points against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the Rasmussen tracking poll, dropping from a three-point lead to a 6-point deficit by midweek. Condoleezza Rice's testimony bailed him out and arrested the decline. With the cease-fire in place, however tenuously, in Iraq and Condi on the Hill, Rasmussen had Bush regaining the lead by this past weekend.
But Bush seems headed into a quagmire of his own making. Suddenly, the Vietnam analogies are beginning to make sense, and the Lyndon Johnson comparisons bear the echo of truth.
By framing the choices in Iraq as "staying the course" or "cut and run," Bush is injecting a self-defeating, macho false choice, which can only trap him into a downward spiral of casualties and political defeat.
Bush has shown incredible political vulnerability to the Iraqi turmoil. Underscoring this weakness is a deep feeling by the American people that democracy in Iraq, however laudable a goal it appears to be, is not worth a massive cost in lives and money.
Knocking Saddam and his ilk out of power and barring their return is worth it.
Assuring a stable and democratic Iraq is not. The choice is not to stay or go. It is to try our hand at nation-building or to let the Iraqis have their country back while keeping a large force based near Baghdad to intervene if a terror-sponsoring regime seems to be gaining the upper hand.
President Clinton could be counted on to follow the polls. But Bush's idealistic streak to say nothing of his evangelical tendency might trap him in a commitment to do the impossible and build democracy in a nation that has never known it and doesn't seem to want it much.
As the result of last week's events, Kerry eroded Bush's lead on the crucial question of who would be the better president to handle the war on terror. Before the blood-letting, Bush led 54-36; afterwards, his lead had dwindled to 51-40.
America is aroused as it has not been in decades by the need to respond to Sept. 11 and destroy the forces of terror. But in Iraq, we are now fighting adversaries who recently sided with us against Saddam. The cleric we pursue had to watch his father die at the dictator's hands.
The Sunnis, who battle us in the south of Iraq, were the very population we liberated in the invasion itself.
Terrorism is no longer the issue in Iraq, nor is Saddam. American occupation is the issue. It is our presence that is causing, not curing, the conflicts we witness every night on television.
The solution must parallel the Vietnamization sponsored by Richard Nixon. But, unlike in Vietnam, we must stand by ready to re-intervene should the bad guys begin to prevail. And, unlike in Vietnam, we must be reasonable in the sacrifices we ask of the American people so that the Democrats in Congress do not tie our hands and stop us from intervening in the future if we must.
But the core realization in Iraq must be to learn the limits of our power on the one hand and the patience of our people on the other. No politician in a democracy can fight a war if the people are not supportive. A superficial endorsement of staying the course in Iraq that many polls show just reflects the difficulty of the choices we face.
The erosion of Bush's vote in the face of casualty is the truer indication of public opinion and of the president's peril.
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