Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Squandering a legacy

George Will has an outstanding column for The Washington Post that ran in today's Knoxville News-Sentinel about Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon and his change of heart on Iraq. I suspect that many other Republicans in both Houses of Congress will follow Smith as becomes more and more clear how much of a quagmire the situation in Iraq is.

At this point in the war, I might be willing to cut the President some slack when it comes to the idea that Islamic terrorists may come to see the United States as weak and unwilling to fight if we withdraw. That argument might wash if the President had not started the war in Iraq unnecessarily while still waging one in Afghanistan against terrorists who were posing a real and legitimate threat. That war was going very well, we were winning and it was clear we were doing so. Our forces were doing what the President has said he wanted to do all along-defeating the terrorists who pose a threat to the United States of America.

When the War in Iraq began, it not only opened our thinly-stretched forces up to a second front, it gave the terrorists a second front to divert to in the wake of the invasion. Because of the opening of that second front, the Taleban is gaining strength and has already taken power back in some areas of the country. Rather than stave off the Taliban, we do not have enough manpower in Afghanistan to continue to press the enemy. This has resulted in a resurgence of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the latter now operates in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rather than defeating the terrorists, starting a war in Iraq stretched our forces in Afghanistan so thin that the enemy is now enjoying a level of success with unconventional tactics not seen before the launch of the Iraq War.

This is not a case of simple diminishing popularity such as Harry Truman experienced in the wake of the situation in Korea in his day. There was a clear threat of Communist expansion in Korea that was met and thwarted, even though the situation appeared to be a stalemate. Many of Truman's popularity problems stemmed as much from disagreements over domestic policy as from the war in Korea. Nearly all of Bush's political problem in this country has to do with Iraq. The economy is not in shambles, the judges he has appointed have been solid picks-indeed his Supreme Court picks have heretofore been the high point of the Bush Presidency. The problem is the conduct of the war, and the domestic policy decisions associated with the war, such as the PATRIOT Act.

It is on this war that the President has chosen to spend his political capital, and he has squandered it mightily on a disastrous policy that has destroyed a legacy that instead could have been marked by a restoration of conservatism in the national consciousness such as was seen in the days of Ronald Reagan. The President chose to wage war on an assumption built on a fabrication (WMD's), and sacrifice the success of one campaign for the sheer ability to wage-not win-another.

We are now in a no-win situation in Iraq. If we pull out, it sends the message to our enemies that we are soft, weak, and do not have the stomach to fight. This is a notion that is hateful to any real American. If we remain in Iraq, our men and women will be subjected to a situation where there can be no military victory, and they will be asked to spend their blood and toil for heathens and infidels who no more appreciate their sacrifice than a rat appreciates table scraps.

Even though these words were spoken in 1968, there are at least parts of them that ring as true today for our present situation as they did for Vietnam. Mr. Cronkite speaks to our honor as a nation.



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