Doubt. At the moment, this is the most feared word in the Republican vocabulary.
Doubt about the outcome of the elections in November. Doubt about the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. And, most troubling of all, doubt about the wisdom of invading Iraq.
What I am hearing with growing frequency from my fellow Republicans is, "What if we made a horrible mistake in invading Iraq? What if history records it as a colossal miscalculation?"
GOP strategy going into the midterm elections is to play down Iraq while re-emphasizing the threat of terrorism. Such thinking is both predictable and risky.
With the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks just past, the American people and media have grown dangerously complacent with regard to terrorism and threats to the homeland, no longer giving them the personal or political attention they merit. More worrisome to the Republican Party is the danger that a significant number of voters may look at this strategy and decide the GOP is playing crass partisan politics with a sacred and untouchable subject.
Since day one, I have publicly and privately supported this president's decision to take on Saddam Hussein. No matter the rationale for being there, to leave by a certain date not only would embolden our enemies, but it also would ring the death knell for any possible chance for democracy in the region. Leaving aside revisionist history, the fact is that before the invasion of Iraq, every major intelligence agency in the world, as well as the Clinton administration, believed that Mr. Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. That being the case, it would have been irresponsible of any president not to take unilateral action to prevent such weapons from ending up in the hands of terrorists.
Still, the one question many had at the time was, "Do we have to invade now?"
Doubt. Did we invade Iraq at the right moment, or could we have waited two, four, eight or even 18 months before sending our troops into harm's way? Months in which our intelligence agencies and special ops teams could have worked behind the scenes to destabilize or topple Saddam Hussein?Doubt. Did the president truly get the best information from the Pentagon and others before deciding to invade? Did Pentagon senior officials with no military service - men such as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Stephen Cambone - make cavalier and costly decisions regarding predictions of victory and little resistance because they had no combat experience and were ensconced safely behind desks?
I am not a huge fan of director Oliver Stone's, but this decorated combat veteran might have a point when, in a recent interview, he said: "If Bush had spent three months in combat, he would take a whole different view of war. ... He wouldn't be so light. And that includes Cheney and Rumsfeld. They're tough guys, but combat softens you, if anything. It makes you more aware of human frailty and vulnerability. It doesn't make you a coward, but it does teach you. If any of those guys had seen combat, I don't think we would have had this gratuitous decision to go to Iraq, which has cost us greatly."
I don't believe the president's decision to invade Iraq was remotely "gratuitous," but I do wonder whether, if more people with combat experience had been in his inner circle, the decision would not have been delayed - or at least implemented with the understanding that things were going to be bad for a very long time.
Recently, with regard to the war in Iraq, Vice President Cheney went on Meet the Press and said, "We did not anticipate an insurgency that would last this long." Really? Common sense would seem to scream just the opposite. Imagine if an American city or town were to be invaded by hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers. Would the inhabitants of such a city not fight tooth and nail to expel these foreign invaders? Basic human nature and nationalism would seem to say yes.
Doubt. Is Iraq truly better off now? Is it better off with well over 50,000 of its civilians dead and the possibility of another 250,000 dying in the coming years of war and internal strife?
Doubt. What if Iraq is in the throes of a civil war, and we withdraw, by any definition, no matter the rhetoric of politicians and pundits far from the battle? Should such a scenario come to fruition, it's hard not to believe that almost 3,000 American soldiers and Marines would have perished in vain.
Doubt. It's what keeps Republican leaders up at night, and what might cause them nightmares for years to come.