Asking The Right Questions

David Ignatius has an interesting piece from The Washington Post on why the Democrats can’t capitalize on the Iraq issue. Despite the lingering concerns about the direction of Iraq and the widespread belief that Iraq is in a state of de facto civil war, the closest thing to a Democratic consensus view is that we should get out as soon as possible (the Murtha/Kerry position). Ignatius explains why this position is absolutely untenable:

Here’s a reality check for the Democrats: There is not a single country in the Middle East, with the possible exception of Iran, which favors a rapid American pullout from Iraq. Why? The consensus in the region is that a retreat now would have disastrous consequences for America and its allies. Yet withdrawal is the Iraq strategy you hear from most congressional Democrats, whether they call it “strategic redeployment” or something else.

I wish Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter) were asking this question: How do we prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state? Many critics of the war would argue that the worst has already happened — Iraq has already unraveled. Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse. Following a rapid American pullout, Iraq could descend into a full-blown civil war, with the Sunni-Shiite violence spreading outward throughout the region. In this chaos, oil supplies could be threatened, sending the price of oil well above $100 a barrel. Turkey, Iran and Jordan would intervene to protect their interests. James Fallows titled his collection of prescient essays warning about the Iraq War “Blind into Baghdad.” We shouldn’t compound the error by being “blind out of Baghdad,” too.

If the Democrats take the position that they will do what it takes to fix Iraq, their base will shatter. The hardcore anti-war left has a stranglehold on Democratic Party politics — just look at what they did with Hillary Clinton when she had the audacity to speak the truth. If they advocate a pullout, they prove once again that they are the party of weakness on national security issues. It’s a major Catch-22.

Ultimately, the Democrats should repudiate their own extremist elements. They may lose their base in the process, but there aren’t enough of them in terms of the general electorate to make a difference, and their only hope of relevance is to show that they’re tougher on national security. If the Democrats came out as the party that would finish the job in Iraq, they might be able to pull a sufficient number of security voters away from the GOP flock to make up for the loss of their radical fringe.

However, that would be a great political risk, and political daring is not one of the hallmarks of the Democratic Party today. The Democratic position on Iraq will continue to be schizophrenic and the Democrats will still be perceived as the party of weakness on national security. The Democrats aren’t interested the right question: how do we win in Iraq? Instead, they’re trying to ask how far they can go in appeasing the anti-war base without looking feckless on national security? That isn’t the right question, and if the Democrats can’t ask the right question they have no hope of finding the right answer.

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