It is almost surreal to watch the 2006 campaign wind down to its conclusion. The one overriding issue is the war in Iraq. Polls reflect deep public unhappiness with the course of the war, and Democrats will most likely reap the benefit of this frustration. And yet neither party offers a plausible strategy going forward; in fact, both parties seem eager to avoid the issue altogether.
Most of the political ads this year involved corruption in Washington, gas prices, stem cell research, personal attacks, gay marriage and illegal immigration. All (even some of the personal attacks) are legitimate campaign issues, but the elephant in the room is Iraq.
For the Democrats, avoiding seriousness on foreign threats has become part of their DNA. Since Vietnam (and Vietnam is the principal scaffolding of their mental architecture), they have cried "quagmire" from the first minutes we've exchanged fire with any adversary. The New York Times dubbed Afghanistan a quagmire after 10 days of fighting. Democrats in Congress were calling the Iraq campaign a quagmire when our troops paused for a couple of days during their drive to Baghdad to wait out a sandstorm. Democrats seek "exit strategies" from wars. They do not seek victory.
The Democrats' wisdom on the Iraq question has been summarized in the past few weeks by two of their star players. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told a "60 Minutes" audience that we should simply withdraw from Iraq. When Leslie Stahl asked about the terrorists in Iraq, Pelosi acknowledged their presence, but dismissed it, saying, "But that doesn't mean we stay there. They'll stay there as long as we're there. They're there because we're there."
And Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., betrayed the contempt he has always harbored for our military by suggesting that only those who fail to study hard wind up "stuck in Iraq." (For the record, even if Kerry did intend, as he claims, to skewer President Bush but not the troops, the little joke is still revealing. He regards Iraq as President Bush's problem, not America's.)
The Democrats' robotic approach to foreign policy challenges is familiar: appeasement, negotiation, deference to the United Nations, and, where a commitment has already been undertaken, retreat.
But what about the Republicans? It's hard to motivate your base with a rallying cry of "continue to do too little to win." For more than two years it has been evident that though millions of Iraqis desire democracy enough to take their lives in their hands to vote, the violence unleashed by a few has prevented a government from functioning.