Majority Leader Harry Reid is being lacerated, and justifiably so, for a pair of statements about the war in Iraq.
The more widely quoted is the "war is lost" remark of April 19, which, read in context, amounts to a charge of rankest cynicism against President Bush and his War Cabinet.
"I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense (understands) and -- you have to make your own decision as to what the president knows -- that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything."
Reid is not just saying the war is lost, but implying that Condi Rice, Bob Gates and probably George Bush know it, and are denying us the truth and cynically letting our soldiers be killed at a rate of 100 a month in what they know is a lost war.
If Reid believes this, he has a moral duty to vote to terminate any further funds for this war. Even the great Robert E. Lee, whose 200th birthday we celebrate, surrendered to stop the killing when his army began to disintegrate after the fall of Richmond in 1865.
Why would Reid not demand his party deny funds for a lost war? Hearken now to the April 12 quote of Harry Reid: "We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Sen. Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding."
One imagines Reid and Schumer sniggering in the cloakroom over the list of Republicans they can bring down if Americans are still dying in Iraq when November 2008 rolls around.
Yet, cynicism aside, defeatism aside, the questions needs to be asked: Is Iraq a winnable war -- or a losing and probably a lost cause?
Last December, Bush himself told The Washington Post: "We're not winning. We're not losing" -- a long way from his pre-election stand, "Absolutely, we're winning."
That same month, Colin Powell, who convinced America that invading Iraq was vital to our national security, said the U.S. Army is "almost broken," and "we are losing" the war," though "we haven't lost" yet.
On Wednesday, the House voted 218 to 208 to impose an Oct. 1 deadline for starting U.S. troop withdrawals, if the Maliki government meets benchmarks for progress in political reconciliation. If the Maliki government fails, first departures move up to July 1. Almost all U.S. troops, except residual forces, are to be out by next April.
On Thursday, the Senate approved this $124 billion spending bill, and Bush is expected to veto it and demand a clean bill -- no deadlines, no pork.
Congress will then capitulate and give Bush what he wants. For recalling the "Who lost China?" and "Who lost Vietnam?" debates of decades ago, Democrats do not want to be in the dock when the "Who Lost Iraq?" inquiry begins in the public forum.
Reid and the Democrats are risking having this can tied to the tail of their donkey. For though Americans want the war to end and the troops brought home, they do not want America to lose the war. And that may explain the duplicity of today's debate.
Reid and four Democratic candidates for president -- Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd -- voted to give Bush a blank check for war. Now that the war is going badly, all five are calling for withdrawal. But neither they nor their party wants to be seen as responsible for the defeat that appears inevitable if we depart now.
Politically, cynical Harry and cynical Chuck are right.
If the war is still raging and Americans are dying at the same rate in November 2008, Republicans lose the White House and Congress. However, if U.S. forces have been defunded and withdrawn by Congress, and November 2008 rolls around with a strategic disaster and Cambodian-style bloodbath in Iraq, Reid's party could be credibly charged with having cut and run, lost the war and caused the greatest debacle in American history. The stakes here are huge.
Democrats believe they have a winning hand on Iraq. Polls seem to confirm it. But the situation is not static. There are more cards to be dealt in this highest of high-stakes poker games. And what looks politically shrewd in April 2007 could look like suicidal folly in November 2008.
As Bush must know, if U.S. casualties are not cut and U.S. troops have not been drawn down by November 2008, his party loses the White House and victorious Democrats will liquidate the war, my sense is that Bush himself will begin the withdrawals.
But as he believes a complete U.S. pullout will ensure both a U.S. defeat and disaster, he will leave in Iraq, on Election Day 2008, enough U.S. forces to prevent that defeat. And his successor, Republican or Democrat, will be the one to complete the pullout and lose the war, if indeed, as Harry Reid assures us, "the war is lost."