Most Democrats — in fact, most Americans — believe that the Iraq war has been a huge mistake for this country. Accordingly, it's no real surprise that Democrats will nominate a presidential candidate who sees Iraq as they see it: anguished by the loss of life, deeply upset by the damage done to America's reputation, and angered by the unilateralism and poor war planning of the Bush administration.Read the whole thing.
These viewpoints are sincere, legitimate and defensible. But they sometimes fail to fold in the reality of how far Iraq has come in the past 12 months under the new surge-based strategy of Gen. David Petraeus. Most Democrats seem to belittle or even deny the progress, despite a 75% reduction in violence and the beginnings of Iraqi political compromise.
To be sure, it is understandably hard for Democrats and other administration critics to believe that a war fought so badly at first could take a turn for the better. We are not used to such things in the modern era. Arguably, one has to go back to the American Civil War to find a parallel, and even that is a poor analogy because President Lincoln's performance in that war was clearly far better than President Bush's has been in this one, to put it mildly. That said, if Democrats cannot get beyond their viewpoint, they could suffer badly in the fall as a result. Even more important, the nation could suffer as we waste an election campaign refighting the debates of 2002 and 2003 rather than looking to the future.
The Democratic position — embraced particularly by Sen. Barack Obama but also by Sen. Hillary Clinton — is that we need to make haste for the exits. Obama rigidly calls for pulling nearly all combat forces out of Iraq within about a year of Inauguration Day. Clinton's position leaves room for some flexibility, though her words on the campaign trail are generally similar to Obama's. But neither candidate's approach would be supported by most leaders — American or Iraqi — on the ground in Iraq. Only those who have concluded that the war is already lost tend to back such a position. And that latter viewpoint is far less common today than it was a year ago, or even months ago.
O'Hanlon does a good job bringing together the various angles of the Democrats' Iraq dilemma. I would argue that he sometimes tries too hard to stick to the middle, for example, with his jab that McCain's "open-ended" commitment is over the top.
Still, O'Hanlon's right to point out the Democratic Party's nihilist opposition to American success in Iraq. What he could have added is that Clinton, Obama, and the surrender advocates up on Capital Hill are scared to death of alientating the anti-American base of the party's netroots contingent.
Nothing can happen on the ground in Iraq - no amount of military progress, no amount of political progress, or no amount of outside intervention from terror sponsors like Iran - to deflect the antiwar forces from their single-minder dertermination to backstab the American mission.
O'Hanlon's obviously responding to the regular attacks he gets from the kiddie-Kos-Kool-Aid types who routinely savage his reputation.
He does a good job. But even O'Hanlon has to realize that whatever persuasivness his arguments enjoy will be lost on America's enemies here at home.