William F. Buckley

So far so good, but behold the elasticity that lies beyond. So -- says the candidate for president -- what we need to do is responsibly contain that war. Mrs. Clinton is demanding evidence of military redeployment of U.S. troops within 90 days -- and if that does not take place, then diminish congressional financing.

That is a fairly dreamy political position for a candidate to be in. (1) You show that you are a tough foreign-policy analyst willing to send troops if the situation warrants, as Mrs. Clinton thought it did in 2002; (2) you stand against abrupt abandonment of the war, establishing your strategic reliability; and (3) you don't challenge the commander in chief's authority; you simply assert control of the purse. The 90-day deadline is easily changed, if politically auspicious, to 100 days or, for that matter, 300 days.

Sen. McCain's steadfastness is encouraging. But he desperately needs what Bush either can't give him, or won't give him. Mr. Bush doesn't want to make the mistake he made at the beginning, of arguing that victory is just around the corner. But in the absence of concrete good news on the conduct of the war, what can Bush give the voting public? America is a can-do society, and an impatient society. Space exploration has been allowed to take an unspecified length of time. Not so a war against regional terrorists.

McCain has to apply his military experience to specify an acceptable measurement by which progress can be assessed. At one end is withdrawal -- capitulation. At the other end, escalation at a drastic level, which means effective pressure on Iran to end its support of the insurgency.

McCain and Bush have to sort this thing out pretty soon, before the Iowa caucuses destroy them both.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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