It is growing in strength and boldness. It is not a political party or a cohesive movement. But it is on the verge of becoming the most significant force in the West, one that perhaps will shape our world for years, even decades, to come.
It is the Capitulation Caucus.
Its membership consists of most nationally elected Democrats in the United States, much of the American foreign-policy elite, the balance of the U.S. media, most international bureaucrats and nongovernmental organizations, and the European political elite.
They are loosely united around their beliefs that the Iraq War is lost or not worth trying to win, that we have to accommodate ourselves to anti-Western thugs in the Middle East and that the United States today is a reckless, malign influence in the world.
On one day this past week, the Caucus had two high-profile symbolic standard-bearers: the captured British sailors smiling and shaking hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, thanking him for their release; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meeting with the criminal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, relaying an offer from the Israelis to negotiate, without mentioning that they want him to abandon terrorism first. Pelosi and the sailors thus demonstrated the Caucus' favorite posture of the ingratiating cringe.
People come to their membership in the Caucus for different reasons, some of them quite legitimate. They look at Iraq and conclude that it is lost. Or believe in the power of negotiation over any other international tool. Or think that the Middle East is a hopeless cesspool. These are reasonable views, but also in the mix are a yowling Bush hatred, an ideological anti-Americanism in Europe and a shameful will to defeat.
A strength of the West always has been its ability to generate self-criticism. (As long ago as 1901, a British politician was complaining that "eminent men write and speak as if they belonged to the enemy.") This makes it easier to correct errors and avoid excesses. The problem is, if the self-criticism becomes too sweeping and unrelenting, it amounts to a kind of self-sabotage, as it did in the mid-1970s when the United States lost the Vietnam War by refusing even to provide aid and air support to the South.
Many actors in the West will always tend toward capitulation. The key "swing state" is the United States. It is the exceptional nation, more willing to defend -- by force, if necessary -- the security and ideals of the West than any other country. If it is robust (think Reagan), the West is strong; if it's not (think Carter), the West is not.
America is now lurching toward a repeat of Vietnam and all the national neuroses that followed. The debate over Iraq is becoming less about how to win, than about how and when to lose. Should it be by September 2008, as House Democrats propose, or by March 2008, as Senate Democrats propose, or right away, as Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid is beginning to suggest with his flirtation with an immediate cutoff of funding for the war?
The narrative of defeat in Iraq is zealously defended. Sen. John McCain could have spoken more judiciously about hopeful signs in Iraq, but the alacrity with which much of the press denounced him for his optimism was extraordinary. It wants to impose an Eleventh Commandment: "Thou Shalt Not Covet Progress in Iraq."
If we lose in Iraq, Sunni or Shia radicals will likely gain all or portions of the country; jihadists will be emboldened and the war in Afghanistan likely will deteriorate; Iran will be in a stronger position with which to obtain its game-changing nuclear weapon; our Middle East allies will lose confidence in us and become even less cooperative. All of this will mean that we will have even less leverage than we do now, and it will further encourage advocates of retreat and engagement-no-matter-what.
The Capitulation Caucus will be ascendant, and the world a much more dangerous place.