The debate over what the U.S. and coalition forces should do about Iraq has turned into a discussion of Iraq as the Vietnam. I don’t think this idea holds up, as Tony Blair correctly explains in this article. The entire article is worth reading, but here’s the highlight:
Of course they use Iraq. It is vital to them. As each attack brings about American attempts to restore order, so they then characterise it as American brutality. As each piece of chaos menaces the very path toward peace and democracy along which most Iraqis want to travel, they use it to try to make the coalition lose heart, and bring about the retreat that is the fanatics’ victory.
They know it is a historic struggle. They know their victory would do far more than defeat America or Britain. It would defeat civilisation and democracy everywhere. They know it, but do we? The truth is, faced with this struggle, on which our own fate hangs, a significant part of Western opinion is sitting back, if not half-hoping we fail, certainly replete with schadenfreude at the difficulty we find.
Building further upon this, Andrew Sullivan posted his statement detailing how John Kerry should handle the current situation in Iraq. He opens his article with the following:
There’s no question that the violence in Iraq this past week has rattled Washington – and indeed Americans. A war that seems to pit U.S. marines against some of the people they are supposed to be liberating is not a narrative most Americans want to follow. Senator Ted Kennedy used the V-word: “We’re facing a quagmire in Iraq, just as we faced a quagmire in Vietnam.” Even the conservative TV host, Bill O’Reilly, opined of the silent majority of Shiites: “If these people won’t help us, we need to get out in an orderly matter.”
Whether or not someone supported the war, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re not leaving without success. In the land of fairies and always-answered prayers, we could withdraw and Iraq would still become a stable democacry. Unfortunately, this is the mess we’re in. It’s not going away, so we have to deal with, whether or not Bush should’ve gotten us into it.
Ultimately, the presidential debate becomes “Who should lead us in the continued war on terrorism?”
For me (besides the obvious conclusion that I’ll vote for John Kerry, short of him being caught with a dead body), this election is about finding a presidential leader. Bush has alienated the world with his bullying tough talk. Kerry hasn’t built any credibility in his ability to take a stance. This is bad for our future.
But the consolation is that, contrary to what people think, Kerry is not going to walk away from what Bush started. He can’t. As much as he may take every stance possible, he’s smart enough to understand the global implications of the current situation.
That leads to the question of what John Kerry would do. As Mr. Sullivan states:
This leaves, however, a fascinating dilemma for John Kerry. So far, his campaign has been dedicated to criticizing how the president got us into the Iraq war. Last Wednesday in a radio interview, he described the Iraq war as “one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I’ve been in public life.” But what would he do if he were elected? So far, he has dismissed the notion that he would cut and run. And you can see why: If he were to pull a Zapatero, he would be destroyed in the election. But he has yet to articulate a compelling alternative to Bush’s call for resolve. Again, when asked last week what his own current policy would be, he responded: “Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I’m not the president, and I didn’t create this mess so I don’t want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven’t made.” That’s a non-answer. But a non-answer tells you a lot about what a real answer might be.
That kind of non-answer is understandable from a politician. But it’s obvious that the United States is in need of a leader, not another president governing by polls or ideology (Clinton and Bush, respectively). Mr. Sullivan, who is not running for president, imagined the perfect statement to fit the message John Kerry is trying to sell. He writes:
Thank you, Mr president, for your leadership in difficult times. You took some tough decisions in good faith. I disagree with you but I will not let our troops down and I will not abandon Iraq. But you, Mr president, are now part of the problem. You are too polarizing a figure to bring real peace to Iraq, and have bungled the post-liberation too badly. Your failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction has undermined your credibility as a war-leader. You are too unpopular to allow European governments and the U.N. to cooperate fully in the war. One of the advantages of a democracy is that we can pursue the same goals over time with different leaders and different strategies. I intend to win the war in Iraq because we cannot afford to lose it. But I also intend to bring our allies more centrally into the task, to increase troop levels in the country, to appoint Richard Holbrooke to oversee our cooperation with the incoming Iraqi government, and ask former president Bill Clinton to re-open peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. I will be tough on terror and tough on the causes of terror. I can complete what you started. In fact, I alone can complete what you started.
The ideas in that one paragraph say everything necessary. Unfortunately, I fear that we’d have to live in the land of fairies and always-answered prayers for those words to come from John Kerry.