[Update: The President will discuss the subject of Iraq in a press conference at 10:30 this morning.]
Here is a sampling of opinion from those telling Republicans not to go wobbly on Iraq.
The war in Iraq is vital to America’s national security and to the Global War on Terror. It is a fight which we are not currently losing on the ground, and which we will not lose if we commit to victory, rather than taking the path that appears easier, at least in the short term – abandoning yet another battlefield to the enemy.
The American military can win this fight. What is needed is for the American people, and their leaders, to put politics aside in favor of presenting a united front against those who, regardless what concessions we make, will do their utmost to kill us. The effort will take time; all successful counterinsurgencies have. The time that winning the peace in Iraq will take is compounded by the fact that, for the Iraqi people to decide to put their lives on the line and to stand together against their murderous enemies, we must first convince them that we are committed to staying there to support them for as long as it takes.
Their skepticism on the latter is justified. We fled the battlefield in Vietnam, in Beirut, and in Somalia after being hit in the mouth by our adversaries. Furthermore – and more relevantly – we abandoned the Iraqis in 1991, after encouraging them to revolt against Saddam and promising to stand behind them while they did so. It will take far more than three weeks at full strength and a few more months of operations against the insurgency in Iraq to convince the people there that we will stick with them for the long haul; however, without doing so, we cannot succeed.
It is crucial to not that neither Senator Domenici nor Senator Smith has yet crossed the political Rubicon that is support for date-certain defeat. Indeed, no GOP senator up for re-election has yet voted for a timetable that passed, and so the need doesn’t exist yet to organize other than a general boycott of the NRSC. But if enough Republicans defect to allow such a bill to pass, then the course is clear: I can’t support someone who doesn’t support victory. I suspect there are tens of thousands of Republican activists who feel the same way.
Even if a GOP senator gets everything else correct, if their vote allows the war to be lost, I don’t know how a Republican activist can contribute to or work for their re-election. These senators may argue they are voting their conscience, but my conscience will demand that I at a minimum hope for their defeat as a clear expression of what the party expects on the key issue of our time. All of the GOP presidential candidates support the surge and a victory policy. The vast majority of Republicans do as well, and they believe very much that there is no alternative to winning in Iraq that leaves America safe and the jihadists defeated and without a new refuge. It is also a crucial part of the Republican platform to take the threat from iran very seriously and to agree with President Bush that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. The tiny isolationist fringe within the GOP is loud but very small, and the demands for retreat from Iraq among Republicans is almost non-existent.
What GOP senators are doing is trying to placate some Democratic and independent voters, betting that their GOP voters will have no where else to go. This is a trend that has to be reversed, and the only way to reverse it is to send the very sharp message that on the war, there are no “free votes” if a defeatist bit of lawmaking is the result.
These people supported the surge. In fact, many of them called for a surge before Bush announced a surge. And now that the surge is just beginning, and our troops are taking the inevitable additional casualties that come with taking a more aggressive stance against Al Qaeda, they’re busy writing mash-notes to the terrorists in the form of withdrawal plans. This is unconscionable.
As a political matter, it’s also ineffectual — if the Democrats are right (or make themselves right by forcing a defeat), are these jackasses really thinking they can disown responsibility for the war by “distancing themselves from the surge” years after most Democrats declared Iraq a lost cause?
How many additional troop deaths do these people figure a few percentage points of approval are worth? 1% additional approval = 50 additional troop deaths caused by their encouraging Al Qaeda? 100? What’s the exact number of additional dead soldiers and Marines they’re willing to trade for a marginally better chance at the 2008 elections?…
They are undermining our troops in a war they authorized and surge they championed even as the surge is in its opening phase, and showing genuine success — and they’re encouraging Al Qaeda to kill even more troops.
This slow-bleed strategy is politically cute but militarily deadly — if they want out of Iraq, they should call for the immediate withdrawal of all troops out of harm’s way, not allow our troops to risk their hands, arms, legs, balls, and very lives for a war they’ve already given up on.
None of these senators has even addressed the question of whether the U.S. is safer if we leave Iraq than if we stay. Isn’t that the key question? The question is not whether the Iraqi government deserves American sacrifice on their behalf. Our sons and daughters are not fighting, being grievously wounded and dying for Iraq — but for American vital interests. If this were just about Iraqi democracy, I might join the screaming for a quick exit.
But if al Qaeda can plausibly claim they drove America out of Iraq (just as they drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan) they will gain literally millions of new adherents in their struggle to destroy America and the West. We will then pay in blood, treasure and future wars vastly more than we are paying today to manage and eventually win our struggle in Iraq.
Our staying power, unflinching persistence in the face of adversity, muscular capacity to impose order on chaos and eventual slaughtering of terrorists who are trying to drive us out will do more to win the “hearts and minds” of potentially radical Islamists around the world than all the little sermons about our belief in Islam as the religion of peace. As Osama bin Laden once famously observed, people follow the strong horse.
We have two choices: Use our vast resources to prove we are the strong horse; or get ready to be taken to the glue factory.
The Republicans breaking with Bush, in contrast, don’t appear to be moved by such a deep-seated conviction on policy. Many of them are just worried about their poll ratings. But winning in Iraq should be more important, and they are misreading the politics in any case. If they force a premature drawdown, they will get no credit for belatedly endorsing the Democrats’ position, and will share blame for the deterioration in conditions in Iraq that will inevitably occur throughout 2008.