Americans are torn between two irreconcilable positions on the Iraq war. Some want the war to be a success - variously defined - and some want the war to be over. Conservatives are basically, but not exclusively, in the "success" camp. Liberals (and those further to the left) are basically, but not exclusively, the "over" party. And many people are suffering profound cognitive dissonance by believing these two positions can be held simultaneously. The motives driving these positions range from the purely patriotic to the coldly realistic to the cravenly political or psychologically perfervid. Parsing motives is exhausting and pointless, but one fact remains: "End it now" and "win it eventually" cannot be reconciled.
With Wednesday night's speech, President Bush made it clear that he will settle for nothing less than winning. He may be deluding himself, but he at least has done the nation the courtesy of stating his position, despite an antagonistic political establishment and a hostile public. What's maddening is that the Democratic leadership cannot, or will not, clearly tell the American people whether they are the party of "end it" or "win it."
Give Sen. Ted Kennedy his due. He not only wants the thing over, consequences be damned, but he's got the courage to admit it, as he did Tuesday at the National Press Club. But when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid come to a fork in the road, they follow Yogi Berra's advice and take it. On one hand, they tell the president they want this war brought to a close. On the other, they refuse to use their power of the purse to do exactly that, opting instead for a symbolic resolution. It may be the wisest political course for them, but it does a disservice to the nation by making the Iraq debate the equivalent of boxing with fog.
Here we have a president forthrightly trying to win a war, and the opposition - which not long ago favored increasing troops when Bush was against that - won't say what it wants. This is flatly immoral. If you believe the war can't be won and there's nothing to be gained by staying, then, to paraphrase Sen. John Kerry, you're asking more men to die for a mistake. You should demand withdrawal. But that might cost votes, so they opt for nonbinding symbolic votes.