No exit strategy

Posted: Mar 13, 2002 12:00 AM
There's a predictable pattern to how this sort of story plays out. First, U. S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., complains during a congressional hearing that the Bush administration has no "exit strategy" and that there is "no end in sight in our mission in Afghanistan." Next, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle questions President Bush's likely "continued success" in the war. Then, the Republican senators overplay their hand. They bash Daschle for dissing Bush while American troops are fighting abroad. This invites the left to get all huffy about anyone criticizing Democrats for criticizing the White House. Daschle acts as if he weren't criticizing Bush, but just asking questions because "we have a constitutional obligation to ask these questions." Editorial pages agree that senators should ask questions. Demos conclude that they are patriots when they ask questions, while their critics are anti-American for questioning their questions. Sic transit media. Puh-lease. Daschle was thinking about his obligation to his presidential aspirations. He didn't pose questions because he might, say, oppose defense spending based on a principled disagreement on U.S.-Afghan policy. He was posing questions because he didn't have the brass to take on Bush directly, not when Bush policies are riding high in the opinion polls. Daschle asked questions because he knew that if he told reporters that he had doubts now, and the Bush effort stumbles later, he can use his vaguely expressed doubts against Bush in the 2004 presidential race. Byrd is harder to figure. He's a student of history, ignoring recent history. He should be aware of Osama bin Laden's infamous Time magazine interview, in which bin Laden stated that the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia made him and his followers realize "more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat." I won't question Byrd's patriotism, but I do question his judgment. There's also Byrd's odd use of the term "exit strategy." A week into the squabble, the Democratic National Committee defended Byrd by releasing a transcript of a 2000 presidential debate between Bush and Veep Al Gore. Bush said that U.S. military missions need "to be clear and the exit strategy obvious." Not that the DNC folks noticed, but Bush was arguing that America should have an exit strategy when U.S. troops are fighting someone else's war -- not an army that has attacked American civilians. "Exit strategy," after all, is a euphemism for defeat. It's D.C.-speak for when a superpower decides it has had enough and wants to pick up its marbles and go home. You don't have an exit strategy when you are defending your own country. In that case, there are only two exits: victory or defeat. As Cliff May of the anti-terrorism think tank, Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, noted, "When the battleground is New York City, you don't think of an 'exit strategy' unless you're thinking of leaving New York behind." May added, "In 1941, if anybody had said to Franklin Roosevelt, 'Hey you're going into Europe, North Africa and Asia -- what's your exit strategy?,' he would have tossed them out of the room. He would have said: 'I don't have an exit strategy. I have a victory strategy. I'm going to do what it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat our enemies.'" Alas, when Bush talks like that, sophisticates dismiss him as a simpleton.