President Bush is uneasily situated as commander in chief of a nation at war. The first challenge of course is to win the war. But obstacles multiply, not so much in Iraq as in America.
In Iraq, the situation appears to be frozen. The insurgency seems to have been weakened by the resolute security measures of the past month, but the weakening is not to be confused with large steps toward defeat. We have faced, for several years, a wretched factor, identified as such by Donald Rumsfeld: The supply of insurgents is apparently self-generating. You kill one, and a replacement appears. For that reason Mr. Bush is without hard good news in his pocket, of the kind that would win political campaigns, let alone land wars.
And Bush is without the resources normally thought of as available to someone directing a war on behalf of the most powerful country in the world. Specifically, he has asked for 21,000 extra troops. His difficulties are at several levels. The first is, Why 21,000? Why not 200,000? The kind of thing LBJ provided in Vietnam.
Mr. Bush has simply not been able to demonstrate that this augmentation in U.S. forces on the ground will provide a critical difference in the fortunes of war. And this makes it possible for Republican legislators to vote no, or contingently no, without running the risk of being held directly responsible for military defeat.
The situation is like that of the French in the Indochina war, where year after year there were more troops and more moneys spent, but, in the absence of dispositive gains, the situation just stalled -- with the important difference that governments in France, in those days, changed every season or two, and with them, responsibility for the war.
Today, the Bush administration is the undeniably responsible party. Mr. Bush initiated the war, wages the war and defends the war. Sen. John McCain began by criticizing tactical shortcomings in the conduct of the war (he wanted more troops years ago), but now satisfies himself with simply defending the war and speaking direfully of the results of abandoning it.
That makes for satisfactory Republican politics, but it is not really good enough to contend against Democratic opportunism. Hillary Clinton is saying that she thought it correct that we should have gone to war, given the intelligence on which we were relying. But, she says (persuasively), now that we have established that the intelligence was defective -- Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction on Iraqi territory -- we can pass historical revisionist judgment and admit that it was a bad idea to go to war.