We’re Still At War

November 9, 2006

I am mildly depressed over the Republicans’ “thumping” in the election, but not so much because of setbacks to the Republican Party. Though I am concerned with President Bush’s apparent belief that he can appease this implacable opposition party by moving to the center, I still believe this defeat could lead to Republicans returning to their conservative roots and presenting a more inspiring message in 2008. But that is only mildly comforting to me since we are at war and much of the nation and many of its leading politicians have reverted to a Sept. 10 mindset. That is much more troubling to me than any Republican losses.

Many conservatives are telling themselves and others that Iraq didn’t play a major role in the voters’ decision to elect Democrats. They cite dubious exit polls to prove their point.

But if we truly believe we are in a world war against global jihadists, that the major battlefield in the war is Iraq, and that Democrats, for all practical purposes, oppose our continued prosecution of the war there, then Iraq did us in because we didn’t make the case. Democrats have succeeded in convincing enough people that Iraq is a costly diversion in the war and Republicans have failed to convince them otherwise.

President Bush tried earnestly to make that case, but he got little help from congressional candidates, with the notable and admirable exception of Rick Santorum, who went down in flames perhaps because of his honest, sacrificial statesmanship.

When Republican congressional candidates didn’t emphasize Iraq and even ran from it, weren’t they in a sense communicating that they weren’t sincere about the primary plank of the party’s unwritten 2006 platform: that we must win in Iraq lest we embolden the terrorists and become more vulnerable at home?

Partly as a result of this abandonment, we have just placed in control of Congress a party that has so far demonstrated a striking lack of seriousness about the war — not just Iraq, but the general war on terror as well.

I am deeply concerned that America simply doesn’t have the stomach for the protracted war in which we are unavoidably engaged. I am also troubled by armchair critics on both sides of the aisle opining that we are incompetently prosecuting the war in Iraq and even that we are losing. They rejoice in scapegoating Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as if his departure will be a panacea.

For a long time it has seemed to me that too many of us believe that unless things go almost perfectly in Iraq we are doing something wrong and it must be the fault of the civilian planners. How can we be so arrogant to think we can just snap our fingers and insulate Iraq — notwithstanding our unparalleled military — from the ravages of terrorism, much of which is doubtlessly being fomented by the neighboring terrorist states of Iran and Syria?

The fact that we are engaged in a difficult war and sustaining casualties, albeit at a rate that is probably but a fraction of those of the enemy, does not mean we are botching the prosecution of the war. It means that we are human and that even our nonpareil soldiers are human, too, and mortal. We cannot fight a war without casualties, especially an urban guerrilla war against a sociopathic, asymmetrical enemy, and we can never completely immunize ourselves or our allies from suicide bombings and other attacks on military or civilian targets.

It also worries me that while we are quite correctly training Iraqi soldiers to take over the primary role of defending their nation and their new government, the moment we withdraw, Iraq could be invaded by the Iranian army. Have we trained the Iraqi soldiers to fight in that context as well? I have no idea. If not, would we have any real choice but to return and defend against the Iranian consumption of Iraq?

It might well be that the only way we can dramatically win this war in Iraq is to take the war to Iran and Syria and cut off the head of the beast that is feeding the terrorists in Iraq. But are we really prepared to do that at this point? We’re not even close and I’m far from advocating it.

But I pray that in the meantime we unite again as a nation that is painfully aware it is at war against a ruthless, unappeasable enemy. If we are truly asleep to that reality I shudder to think what it will take to awaken us. It’s unthinkable. Partisan politics aside, we simply cannot continue to have our heads planted so firmly in the sand.