Thursday, November 15, 2007

Democrats Must Cope With Victory in Iraq

James Ceaser, at the Weekly Standard, argues that the Democrats face a monumental dilemma in the politics of foreign policy: How will they cope with U.S. victory in the Iraq war:

WILL ANY OF the Democratic candidates be able to summon the courage to concede an American victory in Iraq?

No one, of course, can know the ultimate outcome of this long war. But the vaunted "facts on the ground" now at least admit a trend leading to what might reasonably be called victory: a suppression of the insurgency; a steep reduction in the level of domestic, sectarian violence; the existence of a constitutional government not unfriendly to America; a gradual reduction of American force presence with diminishing American casualties; and the assurance for a period of a continued base of operations from which to handle other possible contingencies in the region.

But if this outcome "on the ground" can be called victory--and why should it not be?--there is a huge potential problem looming in our ability to acknowledge it. Generic opinion polls for the presidential election all indicate a much better than even chance that a Democrat will be elected president next year. All of the Democrats now have been running on a platform that, if it does not recognize defeat, certainly does not envisage victory. And moving beyond the candidates, a large part of the Democratic base is heavily invested in defeat, which is seen as condign punishment for a despised president.

Imagine then the dilemma facing a Democratic president with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. It might be too much to think that steps would be taken to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, although a lack of firm policies and rigor in the endgame could have that effect. More plausibly, if victory is near, could the new president proclaim it and cement its benefits for America's future strategic role? Could the new president suspend his or her disbelief and accord the full measure of praise to a general who had saved the day? Could that president give full honor to the American troops, not just for their service--that's always easy--but for their achievement in winning. Could that president show up on an Army bases and declare, in full-throated pride, well-done and mission accomplished?

Historians can cite many instances of nations that have been pulled apart by the difficulty of dealing with defeat in war. Will America be the rare case of a nation that is unable to cope with a victory?
Note first that Ceaser's piece is another sign that more and more commentators are speaking of an impending American victory in Iraq (see my earlier post, "Victory in Iraq? The War Has Been Won").

Now what should the Democrats do? That's easy: They need to reject the white flag politics of their nihilist, antiwar base and embrace the phenomenal success of America's fighting men and women in Iraq.

Ceaser makes a good point, though: Republicans need to give the Democrats political space to integrate victory into the party's talking points. It will not be necessary for Democrats to fully disown their last four years of criticisms and recriminations; and the party can be in fact heartened by its politcal victory in winning control of Congress (and its likely win of the presidency in 2008). But a strong Democratic leader must step forward to denounce the party's defeatist base, repudiating the politics of partisan destruction in foreign affairs.

I would add that this very leader needs to be unequivocal in announcing America's lasting support to the Iraqis in the consolidation of their democratic regime.