You don’t want to be the person in charge, Jerry Seinfeld once advised. Whenever something goes wrong, the first question people ask is, “Who’s in charge?”
Democrats in Congress don’t seem to think too highly of Seinfeld’s counsel. They’re eager to present themselves as the people “in charge.” As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told CNN, “the Constitution that I have right here in my pocket calls for us being equal to [President Bush].”
But with power comes responsibility. That’s what makes the war spending bill, recently passed by both the House and Senate, problematic for the left. The bill would require that troop withdrawal from Iraq begin by Oct. 1, and aims to end U.S. combat operations there by next March.
But why the delay? Reid said on April 19, “This war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq.” And as Sen. Ted Kennedy put it in a statement on the Senate floor, “It is time to end the loss of American lives and to begin to bring our soldiers home.” Kennedy added, “For the sake of our troops we cannot repeat the mistakes of Vietnam and allow this to drag on long after the American people know it’s a mistake.”
But the Vietnam analogy is apt. Kennedy’s fellow Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry once wondered, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” That would seem to apply here. If we’ve already lost in Iraq, we should bring the troops home immediately. After all, congressional leaders shouldn’t ask our troops to keep fighting in Iraq for the next six months or the next year, since anyone killed would be dying for a lost cause.
But here’s where the Democrats run into trouble. Our warriors on the ground don’t seem to think the war is lost. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, sounds cautiously optimistic. “We generally, in many areas -- not all, but in many areas -- have a sense of, sort of, incremental progress,” he told reporters on April 26.
Sen. Reid, however, may not be aware of any progress, since news of it isn’t making it into the media. As Petraeus put it, “That is not transmitted at all. Of course, it will never break through the noise and the understandable coverage given to it in the press of a sensational attack that kills many Iraqis.”
Or maybe Reid just doesn’t want to hear any good news from Iraq. Consider this exchange: CNN’s Dana Bash tells Reid, “General Petraeus is going to come to the Hill and make it clear to you that there is progress going on in Iraq, that the so-called surge is working. Will you believe him when he says that?” The Majority Leader answers, “No, I don’t believe him, because it’s not happening.”
This is quite a turnaround. Just three months ago, Reid was one of 81 senators who voted to confirm Petraeus (zero voted against him) to go to Iraq and lead a new American approach -- the surge. Now Reid doesn’t even want to listen to the commander.
The bottom line is that if the United States pulls out of Iraq prematurely, we’ll be handing our terrorist enemies a victory they haven’t earned. “We’ve got a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. We’re going to wave the white flag there,” as Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani put it on April 23. “We’re going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we’ll be back in our pre-September 11 mentality of being on defense.”
Not surprisingly, many Democrats went after Giuliani. Presidential candidate John Edwards said his “suggestion that there is some superior ‘Republican’ way to fight terrorism is both divisive and plain wrong. He knows better.”
But here’s what John Kerry told a reporter for The New York Times Magazine when he ran for president in 2004: “We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance.” That sure sounds like a man in favor of playing defense against terrorists.
Giuliani says we’ll eventually defeat the terrorists. But he adds, “The question is going to be: How long does it take and how many losses will we have along the way? And I truly believe that if we go back on defense for a period of time, we’re going to ultimately have more losses and it's going to go on much longer.”
Rudy’s right. The United States will win the long war against terrorism, and we’ll do it much sooner if we go after terrorists wherever they are -- including Iraq -- instead of waiting for them to come to us.
Last year’s elections gave Democratic lawmakers power -- but it’s up to them to show some responsibility. They should either give the surge time to work, or vote to withdraw right now. And whatever they do, they should know that Americans will hold them accountable. After all, they’re now at least partially “in charge.”