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Is It an Unwinnable 'Republican War'?

by Patrick J. Buchanan
June 22, 2005

From President Bush's Axis of Evil speech in January 2002 to the invasion in March 2003, some of us argued vehemently and ceaselessly against going to war.

We saw no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9-11. We saw no threat from a nation unable even to shoot down a single U.S. plane during 40,000 sorties in the previous decade. We warned that an occupation of Iraq would create our own Lebanon. And so it has.

But we lost the debate of 2003. The warnings of opponents were brushed aside, and, with the Senate Democratic leadership behind him, Bush took us to war. Two years have now elapsed, and our leaders cannot even agree on whether we are winning or losing the war.

Vice President Cheney dismisses the insurgency as in its "last throes." CIA Director Porter Goss says, "They're not quite in their last throes, but ... they're very close to it." Sen. Joe Biden says Goss should talk to "his intelligence people on the ground." Biden told CBS: "They didn't suggest at all that it was near its last throes. Matter of fact, it's getting worse, not better."

John McCain says we face "a long hard slog ... It's going to be at least a couple of more years." Sen. Chuck Hagel, a McCain backer in 2000, says: "Things aren't getting better. They're getting worse ... The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

From these conflicting assessments, reports from Iraq and polls showing three in five Americans consider the war a mistake and want to begin bringing the troops home, some somber conclusions can be reached.

We may not be losing the war, but U.S. policy is failing either to end the insurgency or to eradicate the insurgents. Yet, Bush appears unable or unwilling to escalate to win it, if that means adding troops to the 140,000 already there. But if escalation is not an option, and the present policy is not working, and U.S. support is weakening, we are in a hellish situation.

For whether one opposed or supported the war, the president took us in. And, by now, the U.S. investment in blood, treasure, credibility and prestige is immense. As of today, there exists the possibility that that huge investment could be wiped out and America could suffer a reversal as grave as the loss of China to Stalin and Mao in 1949, or of Southeast Asia to communism in 1975.

Is the president, is the country aware of the stakes involved and of the consequences of a failure in Iraq?

If, following a U.S. withdrawal, the Baghdad government collapsed in the face of the insurgency, Iraq could split apart into a Kurdish north, a Shiite south and a radicalized Sunni center. Civil war could follow, with 2 million barrels a day of oil production taken off the world market in a matter of weeks.

A U.S. strategic defeat in Iraq would have a traumatic effect on every ally in the Islamic world and would energize and embolden radicals and terrorists from Morocco to Mindanao to attack the remaining friends of this country and American interests across the Third World.

At home, loss of Iraq would make Bush a failed president and ignite a quarrel as contentious and ugly as the "Who-Lost-China?" argument of the Truman-McCarthy era and the Vietnam debates of the Johnson and Nixon years, both of which poisoned our national politics for decades.

Because he knows a failure in Iraq would be a disaster for U.S. Middle East policy and a fatal blow to his place in history, Bush is not going to lose this war. Which means that, even in the absence of visible progress in eradicating the insurgency, he will not withdraw U.S. troops, even should his party suffer serious reversals in 2006, with the war's unpopularity the central issue.

Back in 1976, vice presidential nominee Bob Dole referred to World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam as "Democrat wars." Well, Iraq is "The Republicans' War." And as Democrats hold neither Congress nor the White House, they can support the war and the troops, while questioning the policy and the leadership. It is the Nixon option of 1968.

But if fading support for the war and a shortage of available forces means Bush cannot escalate to win it, but cannot risk disaster by walking away from it, he is left with a "stay-the-course" strategy. That was the Johnson option of 1968.

But if President Bush can neither escalate, nor cut his losses and get out, and his present policy is not working, what do we do?

Bush needs to tell us where we are going, how long it will take, how much it will cost, what the prospects are of success, what the risks and costs of failure are, and what victory will look like.

America needs answers now. Assurances will not longer do.

2005 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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