Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- This has not been a good month for the Democrats who are more dispirited than ever before about what to do in Iraq.

When a party's leadership is unable to unite behind a clear position on the No. 1 national-security issue facing America, it is not ready to govern. And that is the situation the Democrats now find themselves in.

Last week, Democratic leaders produced an election-year agenda that said nothing about fighting the war on terror. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi blurted out the reason why: "We don't even have a party position on the war," she told reporters.

Then there was a series of House and Senate votes last week to test just how much support the Democrats' push for a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops could muster. All went down to overwhelming defeat.

The noisiest position coming out of the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party, fueled by an Internet army of left-wing bloggers, is for a swift military withdrawal of U.S. forces. That is the view of Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the party's newest hero who declared on Sunday's "Meet the Press": "We can't win a war like this."

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democrats' indecisive 2004 presidential nominee who has been on just about every side of the Iraq issue that one can possibly be, has joined Murtha in this debate. First, Kerry was for the war. Then he was partially for the war, if it was done right. He was against it before he was for it. Now, seeing the support Murtha is getting from the party's anti-war base, Kerry, plotting another run for the presidency, has proposed a pullout, too -- a position the Senate shot down last week.

But the Democrats' clear frontrunner for the presidency, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, thinks that would be a dumb move. Actually, she put it more politely, saying it's not "a smart strategy" to tell the terrorists in Iraq that we plan to withdraw, thereby leaving the nascent Iraqi government high and dry, and giving Al Qaeda terrorists their biggest victory since Sept. 11, 2001.

Clinton was roundly booed for saying this last week at a gathering of liberal anti-war Democrats, further exposing the deepening schisms in her party over Iraq and security issues in general.

This is a party at war with itself over the most important national-security issue of our time. The image it is sending is not just one of confusion and discord but of a party that shifts and retreats with the changing winds of public opinion, a party that has no deep abiding core convictions when the going gets tough -- as it often can and has and will in the global war on terror.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.