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Empty Rhetoric on the Surge

“If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. . . . A contagion of violence could spill out across the country. . . . For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally. . . . And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America.”

This short passage was the heart of George Bush’s State of the Union address, and the words form the heart of his argument about Iraq. Not about whether we should have invaded Iraq in 2003 or whether we conducted the invasion competently—Bush certainly got at least one of those two questions wrong—but about where we go from here.

How do Bush’s critics answer? They give what seem to be pre-programmed Democratic responses. Senator James Webb proposed “an immediate shift toward strong, regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.” What might that “formula” be? That remains to be revealed.

Hillary Clinton, who until recently was building centrist credentials by arguing that we should send more troops to Iraq, now opposes Bush’s plan to do just that. “We’ve been down this road before,” she says. Instead she calls for “a new strategy to produce what we need: a stable Iraq government that takes over for its own people so our troops can finish their job.” What will this “strategy” consist of? She doesn’t say.

Clinton’s main rival—as of now—for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, proposes to “start bringing our troops home” in order to “bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.” And when might that end be? And what might that end be? On these questions Obama stays mum.

Until the critics respond to Bush by arguing either that American capitulation will not lead to the consequences he sketches or by explaining what alternative “strategy” or “formula” will avert this capitulation, they are playing fast and loose with our nation’s safety. Whether Bush’s surge is sufficient is another question, which I will address in my next post.


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