'No Policy' Is Bad Politics
November 28, 2005 - 12:57pm ET
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Last week I explained that the Cairo Process offers all but Lieberman Democrats and many moderate Republicans a bridge to a united policy on Iraq. That Cairo also represents the only hope we have for avoiding civil war is also compelling. Some Democrats obviously don't understand how serious the situation in Iraq really is. A report in today's Congressional Quarterly reveals that some in the Democratic leadership are resisting any unified strategy on Iraq, believing that it better to let Bush struggle with finding an exit strategy—and fail—than to offer the GOP a target to attack. Here's the quote:
“When it’s George Bush against himself, he does pretty poorly, but if you put some other specific policy up against Bush’s, all of a sudden he may start to look better,” said Mark Mellman, president of the Mellman Group, a Democratic polling and consulting firm. ...
Already, party strategists note that Murtha’s proposal has struck a chord with the party’s anti-war base. One strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the party’s base “would like a unified and clear Democratic plan on how to get out of Iraq. . . . There is some real frustration in the Democratic base that that plan doesn’t exist already.”
But [Rahm] Emanuel, [D-Ill.] and other party leaders are reluctant to give in to such pressure and come up with a party plan. “At the right time, we will have a position,” Emanuel said.
Such an attitude just confirms the old Republican adage that Democrats are weak on defense. First, such a tactic assumes that Iraq will simply continue on in its current state, causing political pain to the GOP but no lasting damage to the United States. Beyond the obvious lack of regard for the 2,100 troops who have died and those continuing to fight and bleed, the situation in Iraq is precariously close to civil war. William Raspberry concurs in his column in today's Washington Post :
If Iraq is most likely to implode into civil war, leaving it a far more dangerous hotbed of terrorism than it was before our invasion, wouldn't the Democrats be smart to let it happen without interference? That isn't to say the Democrats yearn for failure—but it's a cinch they don't want to be blamed for it.
It would be a no-lose position, politically, for the Democrats to sit back and watch the catastrophe happen.
But the quagmire in Iraq involves much more than politics. It involves national honor, the undiminished threat of international terrorism—and the lives of too many people who deserve better.
But Raspberry himself misses the larger strategic threat of civil war in Iraq. If Iraq descends into an intercommunal land grab, millions will be displaced, hundreds of thousands killed, and the instability will spread rapidly to Iraq's neighbors and their oil production. One more oil shock will devastate a global economy already suffering from a speculative bubble that is, according to The Economist, larger than that which preceded the 1929 crash.
Second, there is in fact a course that can lead to a reasonably good outcome for Iraq: supporting the Cairo process. Many Democrats, including Jack Murtha, Joe Biden and Lynn Woolsey, recognize that the problems in Iraq are political and that the answer is to increase our diplomatic efforts to gain a viable, negotiated national compact. But few, if any, of the Democrats have recognized that such a process just got underway little more than a week ago in Cairo. Backed by the U.N. and the EU and hosted by the Arab League, it is likely to be the last possible chance to negotiate before the civil war.
Sophisticated tactics cannot compensate for strategic ignorance. By refusing to seriously engage the Iraq issue, indeed to educate themselves on the basics of national security and peacemaking, some Democratic leaders are confirming our worst suspicions.
It's time for Democratic politics to be based on sound policy. That's what America wants from Congress.
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