Commentary Magazine


Where’s the Nuance?

The Washington Post editorial board has a modest conclusion about the fighting in Basra:

What the end of the fighting demonstrated is that Mr. Maliki’s government and army are not yet strong enough to decisively impose themselves by force in areas controlled by the Mahdi Army or other militias, at least not without the full support of U.S. ground forces. The fact that such support remains available to the government no doubt contributed to Mr. Sadr’s embrace of a cease-fire. By the same token, American withdrawal could precipitate a far bloodier conflict that, if won by the Mahdi Army, would be a major reversal for U.S. interests in the Middle East. At best, the battle of Basra will persuade the Shiite parties to fight for control over the city in upcoming provincial elections, rather than in the streets. But the fact that an Iraqi government commonly described as impotent and inert now is willing and able to fight Shiite militias is a step in the right direction.

This rather restrained view seems to align with available facts. You can quibble with it, but it is a responsible attempt to assess the facts, draw conclusions and elucidate lessons which might shape future action.

But there is none–absolutely none–of this analysis to be found among the Democratic presidential contenders or members of Congress. Facts at this point are irrelevant as they pursue a determined course of retreat.

It was not too long ago that the Bush administration was attacked for being out of touch with reality and elevating ideology over facts. Democrats were irate (with some justification) that the Bush administration failed for so long to adjust our strategy to fit the deteriorating political and military situation in Iraq.

Now, the presidential contenders simply ignore the news altogether. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama seems interested in discussing recent developments. Neither has explained why their plan for immediate withdrawal would further our objectives. Instead, we get from Obama the vague suggestion for a “strike force” (which sounds like something from a B-movie plot: “General, send in the strike force!”) without mentioning the ground support such a force would require, or outlining its location and objectives. And I thought Democrats were opposed to unspecified military actions with ill-conceived missions.