Does the Republican Party truly believe Iraq is part of the war on terror and that the war on terror is the most important issue facing voters next week? If so, I wish its operatives and candidates would start acting like it instead of running from Iraq and President Bush.
Too many GOP candidates and spokesmen are playing into the Democrats' hands by virtually conceding the Iraq issue -- an issue upon which the Democrats are extremely vulnerable themselves, if challenged.
I know, I know, many readers will think I'm way off base making such an assertion, having bought into the spoon-fed conventional wisdom that Iraq is a guaranteed loser. What is guaranteed is that America will be the loser if we abandon the president on Iraq and abandon the mission there.
I've seen countless Republican politicians sprinting for the tall grass when asked if they support the president's policy on Iraq. Most of them by the way, are incumbents who have most certainly supported Bush's thankless policy but are now afraid to stand by him in the heat of an election contest.
The same holds true for many GOP operatives, not to mention conservative pundits, who are also going wobbly on this difficult war. I watched Elizabeth Dole, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, on "Fox News Sunday" appearing to duck the Iraq question, saying that people have different opinions about the war as a matter of conscience. She eventually got around to pointing out the inferiority of the Democratic position on the war, but she was quite unwilling for the election to be a national referendum on Iraq.
Given this approach by GOP insiders, what is an inquiring voter to think? If Republicans won't stand by President Bush on Iraq, how can we expect the public to? If Republicans think that supporting Bush on this is suicidal, how much more so will it be if they run from it?
It is pure folly for Republicans to think they can escape accountability for Iraq by dodging it. If the prevailing national mood is to "throw the bums out," which is debatable, why do we suppose that is?
We are deluding ourselves if we think it's because of Republican scandals or the values issue. Like it or not, it's mainly about Iraq. Not only does this nation usually lack the stomach for a difficult and protracted war, the Democrats have succeeded to a frightful degree, through their relentless propaganda, in convincing people this is an unjust war launched by an unscrupulous president.
Republicans can't hide from Iraq or the president even if they want to. But by ducking the issue they are being too smart by half. They not only fail to escape accountability for Iraq themselves, they allow Democrats to escape accountability for the recklessness of their prescriptions (and lack thereof) for Iraq. They permit this to be a referendum solely on the problematic nature of the war and the president's policies in a vacuum, instead of a sane, responsible comparison between the respective approaches of the parties. This is maddening when you consider how vulnerable Democrats are on Iraq.
Only because of Republican fecklessness have Democrats been able to get away with fooling voters -- according to the polls -- that they would better handle Iraq, when Democrats to this day have defiantly refused to tell us their plan. What we do know is that they would pursue some form of precipitous withdrawal. Choose to indulge their euphemistic dodge in calling it "redeployment" if you wish, but the truth is they have given up on the mission in Iraq and would act accordingly if in power. For that, they have to be held accountable.
But how can that happen when Republicans themselves cut and run from the issue, thinking they've somehow dodged a poisonous bullet? Instead of turning tail on Iraq and the president, Republicans should turn toward their Democratic opponents and confront them in a fight over Iraq.
We are at a critical juncture in our history where we must decide whether we have the fortitude to persevere in Iraq or abandon it because it is very difficult. If we choose to bail out in the short run, it will make our inevitable return to this global war that much more painful and difficult at such time it eventuates, which in any event won't be very long.
It would be refreshing to see a little statesmanship here from the GOP's movers and shakers instead of their best efforts to emulate politically opportunistic Democrats -- supporting the war when it's expedient, and running from it and President Bush when it appears that it isn't. Now is the time for true statesmen to step forward and demonstrate leadership.