I realize Democrats won the elections, but I believe the last thing the president should do the next two years is retreat from his agenda or extend the hand of bipartisanship to liberal Democrats who will only bite it off to a nub anyway.
The elections are not a mandate for the Democrats' policy agenda, because they didn't offer one. I tend to agree with the commentators who contend the elections were not a repudiation of conservative principles, but a referendum on the GOP's perceived competence. If so, the lesson should not be to tack toward the center, or radically alter their ideological approach, but to govern more effectively.
I believe President Bush should govern proactively, not reactively, in his final two years, choosing a handful of issues and pressing forward boldly to promote them: extending the tax cuts, retaining the necessary tools to prosecute the war on terror, drastically reducing domestic spending, immigration reform (the GOP House version -- I know that's wishful thinking), and Social Security reform -- this time with a plan, not just an open-ended invitation for proposals. He cannot and must not expect good faith cooperation from Democrats, except the newly elected conservatives among them.
But to achieve meaningful progress on any of these issues, he first has to work toward restoring his credibility on Iraq, the oxygen-sucking elephant in the room. He cannot possibly lead effectively on Iraq without clearly communicating the options and the pros and cons of each.
We read that a Pentagon study on Iraq is going to tell us we have three options: more troops ("Go Big,)" fewer troops but stay longer ("Go Long"), or pull out ("Go Home"). We hear the Iraq Study Group has no magic bullets, but will recommend that we negotiate with the terrorist states of Iran and Syria. If true, we should take this commission's recommendations with pillars of salt.
What about the fourth option? It is not just Gen. John Abizaid who is saying that troop levels in Iraq are not the problem. Some commentators agree, but go further, saying that we are not fighting the war to win, but are allowing the Iraqi government to handcuff us in our conduct of the war and pursuit of certain enemy factions.
I think it's time the administration responded to these questions directly with detail and specificity, if for no other reason than to stop the idle speculation among doubters.
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