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.
Another Democratic dodge is the demand for a "political solution" in Iraq, the preferred talking point among Democrats these days. This is either childishly naive or reprehensibly dishonest. No serious person thinks that peace can be secured without a political solution. The question is how to get one. And nobody - and I mean nobody - has made a credible case that the Iraqis can get from A to B without more bloodshed, with or without American support.
Saying we need a political solution is as helpful as saying "give peace a chance." Peace requires more than pie-eyed verbiage. In the real world, peace has no chance until the people who want to give death squads another shot have been dispatched from the scene. It reminds me of the liberal obsession in the 1980s with getting inner-city gangs to settle their differences with break-dance competitions. If only Muqtada al-Sadr would moonwalk to peace!
Wednesday, Bush finally acknowledged what Americans already knew: The war has not gone well. But he also acknowledged what few Democrats are willing to admit: If we leave - i.e. lose - it will be a disaster, a geo-strategic calamity for America and possibly a genocidal one for the Iraqis. One moral argument against the Iraq war in 2003 was that it would create an enormous humanitarian crisis in the form of refugees spilling over the borders, which in turn would destabilize the region. That didn't happen. But it would be the most likely result of a U.S. withdrawal now. Yet that's a risk the antiwar crowd is suddenly willing to take.
Bush declared that "victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. ... A democratic Iraq will not be perfect." This sober, stubborn emphasis on victory puts Bush at odds with much of official Washington. He wisely refused to abdicate his war responsibilities to lead to the Iraq Study Group and instead launched a broader effort to find a way to win in Iraq - a goal former Secretary of State James Baker explicitly dismissed.
Bush came up with the "surge" plan. Will it work? Nobody knows. But the one thing the American people know about George W. Bush is that he wants to win the war. What the Democrats believe is anybody's guess.