In a perfect world, a political campaign would showcase ideas. Candidates would explain what they intend to do and how they intend to do it. Voters would then make intelligent choices and help determine the direction of the country.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it happens.
Out in the real world, when a candidate (say, Sen. Rick Santorum) tries to talk about issues (say, Iran) he finds himself drowned out. His opponent simply insists (over and over) that he “close the Halliburton loophole.” It doesn’t matter that nobody knows what this “Halliburton loophole” is. It only matters that nobody likes loopholes and that most voters see Halliburton as “evil.” Next thing you know, Bob Casey’s in the Senate.
To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, a country votes with the election process it has, not the election process it wants.
That’s a problem, but also an opportunity. In November, people voted for “change,” but they never specified what that change would be, because Democrat candidates never laid out an actual agenda. So as our country prepares to take a different path in Iraq, our leaders are free to pick that path, since they’re not tied down by specific campaign promises.
President Bush has made it clear, repeatedly, that he wants to win in Iraq. His political opponents don’t seem to share that goal.
Consider the liberal lion of the Senate, Democrat Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. He’s introduced a bill that he says would prevent the president from sending more forces to Iraq without congressional approval. This, he says, would force the Iraqis to get serious about defending their own country.
As Kennedy told CNN, “The Iraqis have to be convinced. And they will never be convinced, until you begin to rotate American troops out of the combat.” In other words, the only way for the U.S. to win in Iraq is to leave Iraq.In case readers think that’s not a fair summation of his position, consider what Kennedy told The New York Times this week. “We [lawmakers] have in previous circumstances impacted troop levels,” he said. And the examples he cited are especially enlightening. “We did it in Lebanon, in 1983, and we did it in Vietnam. This is the power of the purse. Those two examples are very powerful, where Congress has taken action and had a direct impact in the policy direction, and I would hope it would in this one.”
It’s odd that Sen. Kennedy would cite Lebanon and Vietnam as successes. To most observers they were American failures.
In 1975, after Congress cut off funding for the South Vietnamese government, the United States was forced to run, literally. It’s difficult to spin those pictures of Americans being evacuated from our embassy in Saigon as a victory; winners don’t fly away, leaving their allies to be overrun.
Lebanon was even worse. After the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks, the United States evacuated all remaining forces from the country. Osama bin Laden took a lesson from this: Hit the U.S. hard enough and it will flee.
The United States can’t afford to hand our enemies a victory by accepting defeat in Iraq. That’s why President Bush’s approach makes more sense. He says he will send more troops to help us win in Iraq.
That’s a start, but it will work only if we also change tactics there. We shouldn’t send in forces simply to strengthen one group or another. Our forces should go on the offensive in a big push to restore order in Baghdad.
Sadly, even in these serious times, not everyone is ready to be serious. For example, the media are more interested in showing us pictures of Sen. Barack Obama in a bathing suit than they are in asking Obama to explain his position on the war in Iraq. So voters are left to their own devices.
Using Kennedy’s own words as a starting point, then, it’s fair to say that -- for some liberals at least -- defeat is an acceptable option. “In Vietnam, the White House grew increasingly obsessed with victory, and increasingly divorced from the will of the people and any rational policy,” the Senator explained in a big speech at the National Press Club.
We’ll see how the platform of accepting defeat goes over in 2008.