On Iraq, the Democrats are the party of defeat. That's not a partisan smear, but a fact.
The further we slide toward defeat, the higher the Democrats' political fortunes rise. To the extent they offer any clear policy alternative for Iraq, it is either — depending on your point of view — to admit, or to guarantee, defeat with a rapid drawdown of American troops. So, their political self-interest objectively coincides with a defeat, and the kind of pullout endorsed at times by high-profile leaders in the party would hasten it.
The Democrats don't offer stirring rhetoric about the need for victory and for stalwartness in the face of setbacks, but instead a dreary recitation of mistakes in the war leavened with little hope or positive policy proposals. They don't talk of the need of maintaining our national will or the need for patience in waging a difficult and irregular war, but emphasize our casualties and the fact that the Iraq War has already dragged on longer than World War II.
Now, it's not that the Bush administration hasn't made mistakes, or that optimists (including myself at times) haven't often been wrong, or that we don't face the possibility of losing. It is perfectly reasonable as a matter of principle for those Democrats who originally opposed the war to want, as they see it, to cut our losses. And it would be scurrilous to accuse Democrats of hoping for defeat. But Democrats demonstrate no appetite for doing anything serious to help resist that calamitous eventuality.
Politically, Iraq is a loser for Republicans, except for the bright spot that the American public is not yet ready to quit. A CNN poll in August found that 69 percent of Americans oppose withdrawing American troops by the end of the year, and 66 percent believe that we can win the war there. This is the point of leverage from which the White House can, and will, attempt to lighten the political weight of the war.
Democrats try to defend themselves from the charge of defeatism in three unpromising ways. First, they hit back hard against any perceived attack. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech warning against "moral confusion" in the war on terror and asking whether violent extremists can be appeased, Democrats reacted with an overly defensive outrage. Whenever someone mentions morally confused appeasers, do their ears burn?