No sooner had Sens. Hagel and Biden announced their resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the Bush surge of 21,500 troops to Iraq was not in the national interest than the stampede was on. By day's end, Sens. Dodd, Clinton, Bayh, Levin and Obama and ex-Sen. John Edwards had all made or issued statements calling for reversing course or getting out.
You can't run a war by committee, said Vice President Cheney.
True. George Washington did not request a vote of confidence from the Continental Congress before crossing the Delaware, and Douglas MacArthur did not consult Capitol Hill before landing at Inchon.
But Congress is not trying to run a war. Congress is trying to get out of Iraq and get on record opposing the "surge." Congress is running after popular opinion.
And if the surge does not succeed in six months in quelling the sectarian violence in Baghdad, there will be no more troops, and the Americans will start down the road to Kuwait. And, unlike 2003, there will be no embedded and exhilarated journalists riding with them.
To the older generation, the American way of abandonment is familiar. JFK's New Frontiersmen marched us, flags flying, into Vietnam. But, as the body count rose to 200 a week, the "Best and Brightest" suddenly discovered this was a "civil war," "Nixon's war" and the Saigon regime was "corrupt and dictatorial." So, with a clean conscience, they cut off funds and averted their gaze as Pol Pot's holocaust ensued.
Our Vietnamese friends who did not make it out on the choppers, or survive the hellish crossing of the South China Sea by raft, wound up shot in the street or sent to "re-education camps."
Nouri al-Maliki can see what is coming.
As Condi flies about the Middle East in a security bubble, telling the press he is living on "borrowed time," and Bush tells PBS of his revulsion at the botched hanging of Saddam Hussein, Maliki is showing the same signs of independence he demonstrated when he refused Bush's invitation to dine with him and the king of Jordan. Give me the guns and equipment and go home, he seems to be saying to the White House.
Put me down on Maliki's side. It is he who is taking the real risk here -- with his life. It is he who is likely to learn what Kissinger meant when he observed that in this world, while it is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, to be a friend is fatal.
Will the surge work? Can it work? Certainly, adding thousands of the toughest cops in America to the LAPD would reduce gang violence in South Central. So, it may work for a time.
Yet in the long run it is hard to see how the surge succeeds. We are four years into this war, and the bloodletting in Baghdad is rising. Our presence has never been more resented. In America, the war has already been lost. Even Bush admits that staying the course means "slow failure." And a rapid withdrawal, as urged by the Baker-Hamilton commission, means "expedited failure."
Even should the surge succeed for a time, it may only push the inevitable into another year.
And consider what it is we are asking Maliki to do.
We want him to use Sunni and Kurdish brigades of the Iraqi Army, in concert with the U.S. Army, to smash the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, the most popular Shia leader in the country and the principal political support of Maliki. We are asking Maliki to turn on his ruthless Shia patron and bet his future on an America whose people want all U.S. troops home, the earlier the better.
For Maliki to implement fully the U.S. conditions would make him a mortal enemy of Moqtada and millions of Shia, and possibly result in his assassination. Whatever legacy Bush faces, he is not staring down a gun barrel at that.
The truth: There is only one U.S. policy guaranteed to work if we are resolved to keep Iraq in the U.S. camp. That is to send an army of 500,000 to 750,000 U.S. troops into Iraq for an indefinite period, to pacify Baghdad, retake and hold Anbar and secure the borders against jihadis. Even that kind of commitment, beyond the present capacity of the U.S. Army and Marines, would not secure America's position, once the inevitable withdrawal began.
It is over. What we need to face now are the consequence of the folly of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice in launching this unnecessary and unprovoked war, the folly of the neocon snake oil salesmen who bamboozled the media into believing in this insane crusade to bring democracy to Baghdad in the belly of Bradley fighting vehicles and the folly of the Democratic establishment in handing Bush a blank check for war out of political fear of being called unpatriotic.