Lose a war, lose an election. What else should
anyone expect, especially when the war is one we never had to fight? Had Spain
defeated us in '98, does anyone think McKinley/Roosevelt would have won in 1900?
A logical corollary is, lose two wars, lose two elections. With the war in Afghanistan
following that in Iraq down the tube, 2008 may not be a Republican year.
Even better, by 2008 the American people may have figured out that the two
parties are really one party, neither wing of which knows or much cares what
it is doing. The vehicle for this realization may once again be the war in Iraq.
The next two years, rather than seeing us extricate ourselves from the Iraqi
swamp, are likely to witness us floundering ever deeper into it.
The lesson of last week's election, in which the Republicans lost both Houses
of Congress, will not be lost on either party. Both Republican and Democratic
senators and congressmen will now agree that the war is a disaster we need to
extricate ourselves from. The White House won't admit it, but it has to see
the situation the same way. George Bush and Dick Cheney may not, but Bush's
brain, Karl Rove, certainly does. The puppet must, in the end, obey the puppeteer.
What, then, will keep us in Iraq? While both parties want to get out, neither
has nor will be able to create a consensus on how to get out. Not only will
they be unable to generate a consensus between the parties, or between the executive
branch and the Congress, they will not be able to find consensus within either
party on how the withdrawal is to be managed. The result will be paralysis and
a continuation of the war.
Part of the reason Washington will not be able to agree on a plan for coming
home from Iraq is political. Neither party wants to enable the other to blame
it in 2008 for "losing Iraq." The Democrats are especially fearful
of anything that would seem to make them look "weak on defense."
But a greater part of the reason for fateful indecision will be the very real
fact that there are no good options. If we stay in Iraq, the civil war there
will intensify, with American troops caught in the middle. Already, all those
troops are doing is serving in Operation Provide Targets, with casualty rates
that continue to rise.
But if we withdraw, the civil war will intensify all the more rapidly. Unless
that civil war is won by someone, someone who can re-create an Iraqi state,
Iraq will become a stateless region of permanent chaos, a generator and supplier
of the non-state Islamic forces who are our real enemy. That may also happen
if the wrong elements win the civil war, extremist Shi'ites allied with Iran
or extremist Sunnis with strong al-Qaeda sympathies. The factions who might
create a government we could live with are either Ba'athist or connected with
the current Iraqi government, neither of which is likely to come out on top.
Eggs, once broken, are hard to unscramble.
In the absence of any good options, politicians of both parties in Washington,
not wanting to hold the bag for the inevitable failure, will be able to agree
only on a series of half-measures. We will train still more Iraqi troops or
police, ignoring that both are mostly militiamen for one or another faction.
We will pull our troops back into remote bases, where most already stay, remaining
in Iraq while the civil war boils up around us. We will try to get the regional
powers to help us out, despite the fact that those who would can't and those
who can have no reason to do so. We will steam in circles, scream and shout,
hoping desperately for a deus ex machina rescue that is unlikely
In a reality neither Republicans nor Democrats will dare face, we have only
one option left in Iraq. That option is to admit failure and withdraw. We can
do it sooner, or, at the cost of more American dead and wounded, we can do it
later. Obviously, sooner is better, but that would require a bold decision,
which no one in Washington is willing to make.
In World War I, after the failure of the Schlieffen
Plan, my reporting senior, Kaiser Wilhelm II, wanted an early, compromise
peace. Regrettably, he was unwilling to force that policy on his recalcitrant
Today, in Washington, the generals want peace. They could give the politicians
of both parties and both relevant branches of government the cover they need
to make peace, by going public in favor of an early withdrawal. Unfortunately,
that would require a level of moral courage not notably evident in the senior
American military. In its absence, the whole American political system will
continue to flounder in a sea of half-measures, American troops will continue
to die in a lost war, and the crisis of legitimacy of the American state will
continue to grow.