It is not an easy decision. Regardless of how low Bush’s approval rating drops — and it is now, according to a recent Newsweek poll, at 28 percent, the lowest point in his presidency — there is no question that Bush is going to “stay the course,” no matter how catastrophic and misguided that course may be.
For one thing, he is not running for re-election. For another, withdrawing would be admitting defeat — as he has insisted so many times — and there is no way, no matter how grim the situation is in Iraq, no matter how many more lives are lost, no matter how many more scandals come to light, that this president will ever admit that he was wrong about this war.
His fate as one of the two or three worst presidents in American history is already sealed — nothing we have seen from George Bush gives us any reason to expect that he will do anything other than drag this war out until he leaves office, then blame the next president for lacking the nerve to see it through until victory could be achieved. He will never admit the war was wrong, will never admit that intelligence was ignored, manipulated, or exaggerated in order to justify the war, and will never admit that the war cannot be won, regardless of what William F. Buckley or anyone else says.
You might think the Democrats would be happy enough to see Bush’s approval rating continue to plummet, but it’s not as simple as that. For one thing, the war may have been Bush’s idea, but the Democrats voted to support it and were on board for a long time before it became politically more expedient to turn against it. Now they have to find a way to explain their votes for the war while maintaining credibility as critics of the war — not an easy task, as John Kerry discovered. For another thing, they have to find a way to force Bush’s hand or face charges of being ineffectual when the election rolls around in 2008. Do they dare cut off funding altogether and risk being accused of not supporting the troops? Or do they continue funding the war and risk being labeled as hypocrites and sellouts?
Like it or not, all of the candidates — Democrats, Republicans, or any other party — will have to stake out a position on this war and its miserable aftermath if they harbor any real hopes of being elected. At this point, rhetoric and recrimination will not be enough. Candidates will need vision, but they will also need a plan.
If I were a Democrat running for office, I believe I would say something like this. The War on Terror and the war in Iraq are not the same war, and never were — that is a lie we’ve been told for years now that has been thoroughly exposed. In fact, the so-called “War on Terror” is a war only in a symbolic sense, like the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty. Such wars are not fought in a conventional sense, which was our tragic mistake after 9-11.
As painful as it must be for us to consider, the terrorist attack on 9-11 was NOT an act of war. It was a criminal act, and should have been dealt with as such. Making a spectacle of fighting a War on Terrorism may help politicians gain votes by giving them the appearance of being “tough” on terrorism, but it is hardly the best way to actually fight effectively against terrorism. It is no coincidence that terrorist attacks around the world have increased exponentially since the Iraq war began — a recent report showed that attacks of global terrorism increased by 25 percent in 2006, the number of deaths due to terrorists attacks increased by 40 percent.
Terrorists have used the war in Iraq as a recruiting tool, which should come as no surprise. What have we gained in the War on Terrorism if for every terrorist killed, three more have been created to replace him? And how many of the tens of thousands of Iraqis that have been killed were actually terrorists?
So what to do, then? We fight terrorism by actually targeting terrorists rather than countries. That’s a start. We attack by stealth instead of bombast. We fight terrorism as a cancer in the body of our world. We remove it surgically, rather than killing the patient by whacking at it randomly, hoping a few of our strikes will actually get at the cancer, and doing more damage in the process.
That has been our approach, at best, and that is if you give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt by believing that the war in Iraq really has been about eradicating terrorism. Remember that it has also been claimed at different times that the war was about finding weapons of mass destruction, removing Saddam Hussein from power, or establishing a democracy in Iraq.
Whatever you believe, you must believe that something has to change, and change soon. The tragedy we witnessed a few weeks ago at Virginia Tech is no more than a typical day in Iraq in terms of life lost. If the Democrats want to keep their momentum, they had better start doing what is right instead of calculating their actions on how today’s poll numbers read.