There's little doubt that "What to do about Iraq?" is the central issue in American politics today. It isn't the only issue -- witness illegal immigration -- but it towers above all the others. It is costing $250 million a day, and several American lives a week, and polls make it clear that the American people are thoroughly (and, I might add, understandably) upset about the way it's going.
How we got here isn't in doubt. President Bush (like President Clinton, and all of the leading spokesmen of both parties, and for that matter all of the major nations of the Western World, and the United Nations) was convinced in 2003, on the basis of the best intelligence available, that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, and was moving to construct nuclear weapons as well. In those circumstances, and given the spectacular failure of diplomatic efforts to discipline Saddam, Bush would have been irresponsible if he hadn't ordered a military attack to overthrow and replace Saddam's regime.
When it turned out, however, that no such weapons could be found, Bush pointed out that Saddam was a murderous tyrant who thoroughly deserved ouster anyway. And far more important, if a democratic successor regime could be brought to birth in Iraq, the beneficent effect on the whole Middle East would be enormous. The example of a free Arab society would resonate throughout the region, force democratic reforms in all the neighboring states, and stabilize this important corner of the world for decades to come.
Since then, the United States has been trying grimly to bring about this hoped-for result. But the fanatical Islamist insurgency, traceable to Osama bin Laden and led in Iraq, until recently, by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has made the going far rougher than Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld can ever possibly have anticipated. Suicide bombers and gratuitous beheadings have made the process of winning maddeningly slow. But have they made it impossible? That is the question that understandably preoccupies American politicians.
For the Republicans, the answer simply has to be "No" -- Bush has committed the nation to war, and the only acceptable outcome is victory.
For the Democrats, however, there are other possibilities. Without going so far as to wish defeat upon America's forces, they may conclude that victory is not, in fact, possible -- not, at any rate, at any price the nation is prepared to pay. In that case, prudence would dictate withdrawal, and if that resulted in almost unimaginable disaster for American foreign policy and America's image in the world -- well, the responsibility would be assigned to Bush and the Republicans.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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