Choosing Defeat

A common refrain is that the Iraq War is a “war of choice.” Or course, all wars are wars of choice. The early Americans could have decided to remain part of England with all the restrictions on liberty that would have meant and war could have been avoided. The Union could have accepted the secession of the Confederate states and avoided war. The South could have accepted gradually increasing restrictions on slavery and avoided war. Despite any provocation, one can always choose acquiescence, loss of liberty, or even loss of life over war. When some say that Iraq is a war of choice they mean to say that the negative consequence of not going to war are less than the negative consequences of war.

People can certainly make that judgment. It is clear that had the US known more precisely the level of weapon of mass destruction development in Iraq, the calculus of the decision would have been different.

Defeat can be an inevitable consequence of war, but it also become a considered and deliberate choice. Indeed, some Democrats have cornered themselves into a position that good news in Iraq becomes a political liability. According to the Washington Post, Democratic Representative James Clyburn, the House Minority Whip, warned that “We, by and large, would be wise to wait on the [Petraeus ] report [on the progress of the surge.” He, nonetheless, conceded that a positive report on Iraq, “a real big problem for us.”

Now, we can be sure that in his heart-of-hearts Clyburn wants the best for the US and US troops. However, if one’s political circumstances depend on bad news there is a natural human tendency to gravitate to such news. That is why the recent improvement in security in Iraq has not occasioned relief by Democrats but rather increased their concern about the lack of political progress in Iraq.

Sometimes, choosing defeat can come by accident as in the recent remarks by Republican Senator John Warner. He was trying to offer the argument that perhaps the US should use troop levels to put pressure of Iraqi officials to more aggressively to pursue political reconciliation. Warner’s mistake was to suggest that 5,000 troops be withdrawn to indicate that the American military commitment is not open-ended.

The idea was ill-conceived in many respects. The troop withdrawal is too little to have the desired effect. If it were large enough to signal a significant withdrawal, the withdrawal would undermine the surge with seems to been gaining traction on the security front. Certainly, given the political situation in the US, Iraqis already understand that they cannot count on support from the US past January 2009.

Moreover, Warner should have understood that his suggestion would be misinterpreted and trumpeting in headlines an influential Senator calling for troop withdrawal. Warner’s remarks would be viewed as Warner defecting from the Bush camp.

Warner’s too idle a suggestion masked the fact that Warner has confirmed that he would vote against any imposed timetable for withdrawal. You see the Democrats don’t want the US in Iraq and want a full-fledged withdrawal to begin in Bush Administration so that Democrats will not be blamed for choosing defeat. Warner’s mistake played into this plan.

Some Democrats speak of measured withdrawal, but once significant withdrawals begin, Democrats do not have the rhetorical ammunition to slow the momentum and prevent the rapid abandonment of Iraq to Iran and Al Qaeda.

In Vietnam, the security situation was manageable in 1973 and an agreement to cease hostilities in the Paris Peace Accords was reached. Of course, the North Vietnamese ignored the agreement. By 1975, the Democratically controlled Congress refused to provide military aid to South Vietnam and North Vietnam (amply armed by their sponsors) rolled their tanks into Hanoi in 1975. The Democrats had so demonized the war, that no will remained to support an ally that had been attacked in violation of the Paris Peace Accords.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.