The nation is on the verge of an honest debate on Iraq. On one side are those who believe that the Iraq War is unwinnable and we should begin pulling out our troops soon; on the other are those who believe it is still winnable and we should send more troops in a last-ditch push to secure Baghdad.
The only obstacle to the full flowering of this debate is the reluctance of the Democrats to say out loud what many of them obviously believe: "The war is lost."
If the war is lost, it makes sense -- indeed is imperative -- to begin pulling out American troops now. That is the policy the Democratic leadership supports, but without stating its predicate, which is their belief that America has been defeated.
Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid write euphemistically in a letter to President Bush, "It is time to bring the war to a close." If that isn't just rhetorical fluff -- who doesn't want the war to brought to a close? -- it is a closeted way of saying that the war is lost. It is not within our power now to bring the war to a close. We can bring only our combat role in Iraq to a close, which will stoke the war further.
Because Pelosi and Reid fear saying what they believe, they end their letter with the dishonest assertion that "we want to do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future." It just so happens that everything we can do, in their minds, means doing less, and pretending that it will improve conditions in Iraq. The two leaders thus continue what has been the besetting Democratic political sin throughout this war: bad faith.
Every Senate Democrat with presidential aspirations voted to authorize the war, mostly because they feared getting on the wrong side politically of what looked like would be a popular, successful war to topple Saddam Hussein. The same bad faith has sent Democrats and liberal commentators searching for muscular military measures to favor in theory.
It once was a staple of Democratic criticism of the Bush administration's management of the Iraq War that it hadn't dedicated enough troops to stabilize the country. John Kerry: "We don't have enough troops (there)." Joe Biden: "There's not enough force on the ground now to mount a real counterinsurgency." That was before Bush seemed on the verge of actually proposing more troops. Now Democrats support more troops -- but only for Afghanistan.
President Bush finally has taken to heart the old slogan that war is too important to be left to the generals. He has fired his generals responsible for the failing strategy in Iraq, and hired one -- David Petraeus -- who believes in the new strategy of adding more troops to clear and hold neighborhoods in Baghdad. He thus has stripped away any of the political insulation between him and the management of war that he had maintained by deferring to his generals. He is taking full ownership of the war just as it seems barely salvageable, an act of political courage commensurate with the geopolitical stakes in Iraq.
The Democrats aren't being as straightforward, which is why it's possible to feel a twinge of sympathy for anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. It must be infuriating to her to know that most Democrats believe the same thing she does about the futility of the war, but won't follow through on it. Nancy Pelosi is rumbling about denying funding for a surge of 20,000 additional troops, but supports continuing funding for the 140,000 troops already there. If the war is lost, however, it is no better to have 140,000 troops stuck in theater than 160,000.
Eventually, the logic of their unspoken convictions will catch up to the Democrats, and Sheehan's cry to bring the troops home now will become their own. And the true debate will be joined.