While there is plenty of room for robust debate about Iraq, what concerns me is that the direction of this discussion has, ironically, taken our eyes off the real ball, which is our national security.
Don't get me wrong. I believe the Iraq war has everything to do with our national security. How we proceed -- whether we maintain sufficient forces there to ensure the nation's long-term stability or prematurely withdraw with reckless disregard for the consequences -- is critically relevant to our national security.
But instead of focusing on the national security implications, we are perennially bogged down in quibbling over the partisan flash points of whether we should have attacked Iraq in the first place or whether we're being perceived as liberators or imperialists.
Have any of the Democratic presidential candidates ever been asked, for example, whether they've considered the consequences of withdrawing our troops according to an arbitrary time schedule they have fashioned for political purposes?
They are forever excused for dodging this question on the illogical basis that the consequences of a precipitous withdrawal are not their responsibility. They didn't get us into this war in the first place (allowing here, of course, for a willing suspension of disbelief as to Hillary's assertion that she was deceived into voting for the Iraq war resolution).
Also, the media gives Democrats a free ride on this point because of their shared assumption that we stirred up an Islamist hornet's nest by invading Iraq. As such, withdrawal can't possibly produce negative security consequences because it would reverse that reason for Islamist angst against us.
And don't forget that Democrats refuse to discern that Iraq is a part of the war on terror and so, regardless of the specific consequences to Iraq if we hastily withdraw, it will not impact our national security significantly.
By contrast, I think most Republicans, in varying degrees, believe Iraq is part of the war. Even if we were wrong about Saddam's Iraq being a terrorist-sponsoring state at the time we attacked -- which I strongly reject -- our terrorist enemies have made it their business to make Iraq part of the war.Both al-Qaida, our primary jihadist enemy, and Iran, an undeniably terrorist-sponsoring state, are committed to defeating America in Iraq and thwarting the new Iraqi government. Al-Qaida's global war against us will persist, irrespective of our invasion of or withdrawal from Iraq.
Even if Democrats know in their heart of hearts that withdrawing too soon will damage our national security, they have a vested interest in stubbornly adhering to their politically advantageous line that we wrongfully attacked Iraq (because Bush allegedly lied about WMD, etc.) and won't give it up. They're not about to forfeit this powerful hammer that can always be used to bludgeon Republicans. And they accuse Bush of politicizing the war!
Unfortunately, timid Republicans -- just as on the issues of race, tax cuts, entitlement reform, health care and others -- too often act ashamed, defeated and apologetic, instead of taking the offensive themselves and shaming the Democrats for their irresponsible positions. Republicans have virtually conceded the high ground on the question of whether we should have attacked Iraq -- although there are dozens of justifications and although most Democrats joined them -- and thus begin at a disadvantage in any discussion about the issue. Almost anything they say on national security matters seems to be tainted by this unspoken and unwarranted concession.
But the paramount issue of our day, and of our future, remains national security. Quite apart from Iraq, the parties have radically different approaches to this issue, and Republicans need to do a better job of articulating the life-and-death distinctions involved.
Far too many on the left believe we can find common ground with terrorists and their state sponsors if we will just quit pushing our weight around on the global stage and open a dialogue with tyrants such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Those possessed of slightly more realism understand that we're in this war for the long haul, Iraq or no Iraq, bases in Saudi Arabia or not, Gitmo or no Gitmo, waterboarding or no waterboarding. We are the infidels -- and that will not change until we are destroyed or submit.
Not until we recognize that -- and it shouldn't have to take another 9/11 to remind us -- can we properly protect ourselves. These are the issues that must be center stage in this election campaign, not whether we were justified in invading Iraq.