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Running on Empty

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"The war in Iraq has come at significant cost to the American economy. It has led to a spike in oil prices, resulted in massive deficit spending," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued at a recent press conference.

The surge of U.S. troops in Iraq has brought positive changes to that war-ravaged country. What are Democrats, eager to win the 2008 election, to do? Simple calculus: The price of oil is up; we're still at war. It's obvious, then: Blame the war for high gas prices.

It's economic fear-mongering -- with an added appeal for the anti-war crowd. In West Virginia, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama told supporters, "When you're spending over $50 to fill up your car because the price of oil is four times what it was before Iraq, you're paying a price for this war."

Noted Stanford economist John Taylor said, "A lot of people could listen to that and think it sounds reasonable." But the high price of gasoline is largely a function of increased demand for oil in the global economy. And a more secure Iraq could mean more oil.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton also hit that note last week when she argued in her big Iraq speech, "Our economic security is at stake."

Unemployment is at 4.8 percent and inflation is under control. No matter: With mortgage foreclosures eating into the housing market and Wall Street investment houses holding too much bad debt, many Americans are afraid of losing what they have. (I get that. I work in a shrinking industry. But the larger picture isn't as dim as Democrats and the media paint it.)

Savvy Democrats have found a way to capitalize on market fears. Just as they frequently attribute every hot day to global warming -- not weather -- now they lay every economic problem at Iraq's door. If the economy is not strong, they blame what Obama calls the "Bush/McCain war."

Sure, it's fair to oppose the war and cite the cost to American taxpayers. Although, once a war has started, we have to pay for it.

So when Democrats talk about how the war hurts the U.S. economy, it sounds to me as if they are arguing that U.S. troops can spill their blood in Iraq, but not if gasoline hits $4 per gallon. Then the cost is too high.

At some point, the Democratic primary will be settled, and discussions about the war in Iraq will enter the real world in which not everything that goes wrong is President Bush's fault. In that world, it won't fly if Clinton says, as she did during a Democratic debate last year, "I think it's particularly important to point out this is George Bush's war. He is responsible for this war. He started the war."

Forget, if you will, that Clinton and 76 other senators voted (for the resolution) to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. This is America's war. To troops stationed in Iraq, it doesn't matter who started it. It does matter, however, that their sacrifices count for something.

And it doesn't help U.S. troops, whose morale has been boosted by the surge's success, when Clinton announces, as she did again last week, that the Iraq War is "a war we cannot win."

When the general election begins, Americans will have a choice between two views -- one that argues that America somehow will emerge stronger after a quick retreat from Iraq, and one that argues that fighting for a secure Iraq will make America safer. One view holds that if Washington withdraws U.S. troops, Iraqis will step up to the plate. The other view holds that, as a senior administration official told me last month, "If it looks like we're heading out the door, they go to their sectarian corners and start building bunkers."

Last week, Clinton said in her Iraq speech, "The reality is that this war has made the terrorists stronger." Likewise from Obama: "Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al-Qaida." But if the terrorists are stronger and bolder, why are they losing ground in Iraq? Why are they in hiding elsewhere?

And why have leading Democrats begun to frame the Iraq War, not just as a war that cannot be won, but as an expensive engagement that is driving up the price of gasoline for Americans?

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