“The Democrats have missed a bet,” said my friend, the Tall Man, as we slurped down some coffee during our weekly political discussion. “They are crazily pretending that the enormous success of the U.S. troop surge in Iraq doesn’t matter when they could be taking credit for it.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Look,” he said. “After the runaway Democratic victories in the 2006 election, President Bush gave the Democrats a whole, big bunch of what they had demanded on Iraq. Get rid of the secretary of defense? Done. Change the course of the war? Done, and done quickly with a new strategy and a new commander confirmed with no Democrat in opposition. Bush even bowed to the criticism that we weren’t using enough troops.”
“But after the election,” I said, “the Democrats were seeking troop reductions.”
“Sure, they were,” he replied, “but for three years the Democrats had been claiming we had employed too little manpower. The criticism was a constant with them, a club they swung at Bush every chance they got.”
“Still,” I said, “they fine-tuned that criticism, saying more troops would once have worked, but wouldn’t work now.”
“What happened,” said the Tall Man, “is that as the war drug on and became more and more unpopular, they more and more embraced hopelessness. Many war critics of both parties put previously proffered solutions in the past tense and just said, ‘Let’s get out of there.’ But the idea of a withdrawal timetable was stupid from the get-go, a pre-announced surrender that would boost al Qaeda, increase threats to us and likely result in mass murder. It turns out that the Democrats were right in the first place. More troops can make a difference, at least if used the right way.”
“And yet,” I responded, “many war critics are saying the gradual re-establishment of peace in Iraq doesn’t matter because the Iraqi government is a mess.”
“Well,” he said, “we have some observers telling us it is less a mess than it was, but let’s try to take some of the emotion out of the argument and consider an abstract proposition. If final victory means you must first achieve ‘A’ and ‘B,’ and you know that the achievement of ‘A’ makes the achievement of ‘B’ more likely, you don’t dismiss the achievement of ‘A’ as meaningless because you haven’t achieved ‘B’ yet. There is just no question that success in quelling al Qaeda and pacifying Sunnis and Shiites can be a factor in getting the factions to come to terms. Sadly, it won’t happen tomorrow.”
“You’re surely right there,” I said. “On the one hand, you are dealing with centuries-old tribal hatreds, and on the other, you have next-to-no traditions of democratic civil accord. I wonder whether we’ll ever see anything approximating Bush’s vision.”
“There’s not going to be anything particularly Jeffersonian about it,” my friend said. “What you might get, in my view, is something non-autocratic and fundamentally decent emerging out of an understanding that the alternatives could imperil the survival of one and all. It’s like what Benjamin Franklin said after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. You’ve got to either hang together or you will hang separately. Maybe no one trusts Vice President Cheney anymore, but he’s predicting the government will be in good shape by the end of next year, and he could have it right.”
“There are a lot of things that could still go wrong,” I said.
“Absolutely,” he said. “But there is now more reason for hope than anytime since right after the initial combat, and that hope includes accomplishing something transformative in the Middle East while shoving terrorism further into a corner. We ousted a tyrant who killed hundreds of thousands of his countrymen and was a constant threat to all the nations around him and to us, too. No less an authority than Bill Clinton once told Time magazine that after 9/11 you had to make sure through inspections or otherwise that Saddam Hussein didn’t have WMD stocks he might sell or give away to terrorists.”
We both stood up to leave the coffee shop.
“Just think,” he added, “it’s the Democrats who got us to the place where we may finally win this thing, if they would just admit their sagacity.”
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)