Lots of debate; no solutions


If there is one likely outcome of the November elections, it is that they won’t give us new answers for our dilemma in Iraq.

The politicization of the war has become so consuming and so fierce that we have no rational discourse under way. Those who hoped for a serious national debate on the war and our options in Iraq have hoped in vain.

President Bush has turned the elections into a debate on patriotism. According to him, if you believe the war in Iraq was a mistake or at least has been badly bungled, you do not understand the nature of the "war on terror" and are a willing dupe of Osama bin Laden.

Democrats have tried to simplify the complicated situation in Iraq to such an extent that many of them argue that unless you advocate pulling U.S. troops out immediately, you are a dupe of the president and a co-conspirator in killing more Americans and Iraqis to no purpose.

The current episode of the huge reaction to the national intelligence report is the latest chapter in the sordid, lengthy tome of the pointlessly bitter state of American politics.

The classified report, in truth, says nothing new, although it is the first consensus assessment by combined U S. intelligence agencies since 2003, when the United States went to war in Iraq. When the report was sent to Capitol Hill some months ago, it sparked no debate.

Then part of the National Intelligence Estimate was leaked, almost certainly to embarrass the president. The passages that offended Bush argue that the war in Iraq has diffused the threat of terrorism so that it is much broader and harder to track, while hatred of America has grown dramatically around the globe.

When Bush capitulated to the political storm and ordered the release of parts of the classified report, Democrats gloated that it proves the administration’s efforts in Iraq have fueled deep resentment in the Muslim world and led to a proliferation of terrorist cells around the world.

But the administration used the report to argue that there have been clear successes in breaking down al Qaeda’s leadership, that most Muslims are disgusted by the undiscriminating violence of Islamic extremists and that a U.S. departure from Iraq would signal to jihadists that the insurgents had won and boost their cause globally.

Democrats bitterly contend that the White House withheld the release of the report for its own political purposes. Bush angrily argued, at a press conference alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, that the report was leaked to affect the outcome of the November elections (in which the entire House and one-third of the Senate will be elected). He said terrorists and his political enemies are using the war in Iraq as an excuse for their political purposes.

With members of Congress heading home to campaign and the November elections just around the corner, we’re not talking realistically about what comes next in Iraq but re-plowing old fields. The report says nothing startlingly new but reaffirms what we’ve known for some time: The war in Iraq has increased hatred of America, there have been notable successes in dealing with al Qaeda, terrorism is splintering and sprouting with new terrorist leaders replacing the old ones, and we’re at war with terrorism in many forms for the foreseeable future.

The report basically says that Democrats are right to argue that America is not "winning" the war in Iraq as Bush has insisted in recent days, but that Bush is correct in contending that pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq would be judged a win for terrorist cells and insurgents and spark renewed terrorist attacks elsewhere.

Now that he has reluctantly made parts of the report public, Bush urges the public to read the unclassified conclusions and judge for themselves. But when Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill were asked for their opinions of the report, members of both parties used identical language to claim that the report "reaffirms what we’ve been saying all along."

The upshot is that no new ideas are being advanced in Washington for how to contain the violence in Iraq, end the spreading corruption there, speed up the rebuilding effort and lay the groundwork for bringing home U.S. troops without handing the country over to terrorists.

Both parties are locked in combat over two thoughts they want voters to have uppermost in their minds on Election Day. Republicans want voters to see Iraq as a battle the United States is winning in the war with terrorists; Democrats want voters to see Iraq as a failed strategy that has made America less safe.

Voters on Nov. 7 may show that they view the current administration as incompetent, but if they do so, it won’t be because they think Democrats are much better.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com)