The Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, believes the war in Iraq is lost. There is nothing about that conclusion that bothers Reid: He is as blasé as he is certain, as resolute in pursuit of defeat as Churchill was in pursuit of victory. Last November, the Democrats seized control of Congress on the pretense that they wanted to change our policy regarding Iraq but not -- as they, to a man (and a woman) insisted -- to merely cut and run. We knew they weren’t being truthful then, but too many people were taken in. Now all pretense is dispensed with: we can see the man behind the curtain.
On Thursday, Reid said: "I believe ... that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week." He said that in the middle of a week when some 146,000 Americans are serving in Iraq, and at least 6 have died. He said that at a time when the troop surge announced by President Bush has only managed to deliver three of five brigades -- about 60% of the planned 21,000 additional troops -- to Iraq. The fact that the surge hasn’t had a chance to work is much less important to Reid and the Dems than the political mileage they may gain from declaring it a failure.
How many times have we heard the Dems insist that they support the troops? It’s one of their mantras. If something isn’t “for the children”, it’s to “support the troops.” But it’s false, just as their insistence last fall that they wouldn’t cut and run was. All of that pales in comparison to one single fact: Reid and the rest of the Democrats do not condemn defeat. They do not say they would have done better to win, because the words “win” and “victory” never pass their lips. They never propose an idea that might lead to quicker, more decisive victory in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the Horn of Africa, or Lebanon, or anywhere else. No. The Democratic pathology is the same now as it was forty years ago.
During the Vietnam War, Democrats were able to rally Americans around their anti-war banner because the draft brought the dangers of the war home to most families. But Vietnam was – in their terms -- a “war of choice”: America didn’t have to fight in Vietnam to preserve itself. Iraq – and the rest: don’t forget the rest -- are different on two counts.
First, President Bush began the counter-attack after 9-11 in Afghanistan against the regime that had harbored and aided bin Laden in the 9-11 attacks. No one (no serious person, at least, which eliminates every Dem with the exception of Joe Lieberman) thought that the war could -- or would -- end there. The objective then, of which we have long since lost sight, was to end state sponsorship of terrorism.
Military analysts were uncertain whether the campaign to follow – against the other state sponsors of Islamic terrorism -- should begin in Iraq or Iran or Syria. President Bush chose Iraq. Iraq is not a war of choice: it was, inarguably, a state sponsor of terrorism. Yes, Iraq wasn’t involved in 9-11: but it was involved in terrorism in a very big way. The only argument against Iraq was that it was not the next most urgent campaign. Had Iran been first, Iraq might have not been necessary.
Second, whether Iraq should have been invaded is not the issue. The war against Islamic terrorism and the nations that sponsor it cannot be won there, but it can be lost. If we lose it -- unlike the Vietnam War -- we lose America. Vietnam wasn’t an existential war: this war is. And it is a great mistake to say this is “the war in Iraq.”
President Bush has failed in some ways, but his most important failure is in the leadership in the prosecution of this war. He hasn’t – since that memorable speech a week after 9-11 -- performed the role of a war president. He hasn’t defined the enemy, how he must be defeated, and how we will even know if we have won.
Let’s be plain: we are at war with those who adhere to radical Islam. It is an ideology, not a religion. Our goal is not -- cannot -- be to implant democracy in the Middle East. Democracy is a system of government not, as the neocons say, a weapon. We must defeat the enemy by defeating his ideology and compelling -- by violent means as may be necessary -- those nations who support the terrorist to stop doing so. When that task is done, the war is won. And not one moment before.
What, then, is the import of what Sen. Reid said? First, Reid and his ilk do not support the troops. When Reid says the war is lost, the troops hear. They understand that they are still risking their lives every day for a war the Democrats are content to lose. There can be no more destructive assault on their morale. It is only because of their inherent quality -- much higher than the draftees of Vietnam -- that they don’t abandon the field.
On April 23, 1971 John Kerry told a Senate Committee, “We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” In those years, the morale of our troops was destroyed piecemeal by Kerry and his cohorts. Reid is merely a new manifestation of the Democrats’ pathology. He, like the rest, don’t give a damn about our troops. They care only about their path to greater political power.
Harry Reid’s statement compels one more conclusion: that the Democrats are incapable of leading this nation to victory against this existential threat.
Conservatives have begun to think that the import of the 2008 presidential election is that the winner will decide how the Supreme Court’s balance will tilt for the next two decades. True enough. But more important, by far, is how the next president will prosecute the war.
The fate of democracy in Iraq will not be determinative of victory or defeat in the larger, long war. Will some Republican pursue real victory? Or will the Democrats just declare defeat and come home, bringing defeat with them?