Iraq debate in transition

Posted: Jun 30, 2005 12:00 AM

One can contrast people in many ways: the fat and the thin, the rich and the poor, those who play the tuba and those who don't. In assessing the opinions of our Iraq policy, perhaps the most useful dichotomy is of those who consider the consequences of acts and those who don't. In that regard, special attention should be given to the opinions of Sen. Edward Kennedy and some of the other war critics who are calling for a prompt departure.
It is a well-established principle of developmental psychology that young children have no sense of cause and effect. They live in a magical world in which things just seem to happen. They don't understand that if you pull a gun's trigger, a bullet will come out. They don't even understand the finality of death. Things just seem to appear, disappear and re-appear.

 In fact, the earliest perception of cause and effect turns out to be a false one. Babies cry, and a mother brings them milk. They cry, and a mother brings them a blanket. They are thirsty, and water is brought to them. They cry, and a mother changes their nappy. Thus the immature mind develops the magical idea that the physical world can be manipulated by merely wishing for something.

 But usually by 5 or 6, and certainly by 8 or 9, the human mind comprehends cause and effect, and tries to do things in the present that will cause a desired future fact to come into being. Thus the mature mind tends to think largely about the future.

 And then there is Ted Kennedy and the exit strategy crowd. They mock, ridicule and criticize the president's war effort but have never described the consequences of their own policy of prompt withdrawal of troops. Like the immature attitude of a young child, they don't like the current circumstances in Iraq (as who does?) and simply want to wish it away, with no consideration to the effect of such an action.

 There are, in fact, valid grounds to criticize both the president's war effort and his speech Tuesday night. While everything he said was fine, he continues not to discuss with the public why more of the same strategy will get a better result. While he justifies his current troop levels on the advice of his field commanders, ultimately, it is the president's decision. Many informed people suspect that the generals are afraid to request more troops, because they don't think the president wants to hear that. Whether that is the case or merely a nasty Pentagon rumor, we clearly don't have enough troops to take and hold enemy territory, such as Fallujah, where we lost several Marines last week -- even though it had been cleared of terrorists several months ago. The president owes the country more than bromides. He needs to publicly discuss, with some regularity, why and how the causes he is bringing into being will have the effects that we all hope for.

 But his fundamental policy -- that we must stay until the Iraqis can take charge because the effect of premature departure would be far worse than the status quo -- has not only not been refuted, it hasn't even been challenged. Almost all his critics simply don't discuss the effects of their policy -- except, finally, the New York Times.

 In a conceptually jumbled yet admirable editorial yesterday, the NY Times actually described their view of the likely consequence of an early exit:  "The president does not have any good options available, and if American forces were withdrawn, Iraq would probably sink into a civil war that would create large stretches of no man's land where private militias and stateless terrorists could operate with impunity."

 It is left unstated, but a reasonable inference to draw from that assessment is that it would be a safe haven for terrorists with designs on attacking America. I would add a further likely effect of withdrawal to be to vastly encourage bin Laden and the entire jihadist movement around the world. Seeing cowardice in our running away from Iraq, they would be both more contemptuous of us and more motivated to savage us here at home.

 Let Ted Kennedy and his allies rebut the New York Times's assessment of the consequences of Kennedy's policy proposal, and we might actually have the beginning of a rational, forward-looking policy debate -- instead of a screaming match.

 Near the end of the N.Y. Time's editorial, they wrote a sentence they should have written two years ago -- but thank God they have finally written it. They endorsed a letter that "urged the American left to get over its anger over President Bush's catastrophic blunder and start trying to figure out how to win the conflict that exists. No one wants a disaster in Iraq."

 While I reject many side points in the editorial and certainly don't consider the Iraqi war to be a blunder at all, The New York Times' call to the Democrats to end the anger and start thinking rationally about a successful future in Iraq, if heeded by the Democrats, could turn out to be an historically more import utterance than the president's speech.