The reaction to President Bush’s “new” Iraq strategy was unfavourable even before he’d outlined it, and the detail of what he said doesn’t seem to have changed anything. Although the usual suspects, including Tony Blair and John Howard, gave it their approval, that seemed a mere formality; neither has the slightest intention of sending in more of their own troops.
But the Bush plan, unpopular as it is, puts the opposition Democrats in a dilemma. Should they make a serious effort to stop the fresh deployment, or should they confine themselves to verbal protests and let Bush wear the responsibility for the continued carnage?
Politically, it’s not a hard decision. Republicans have spent 30 years blaming the Democrats for “losing” Vietnam, after a Democrat-controlled congress refused point blank to approve funds to restart the war.
Rather than give them the same opportunity again, the tactically smart thing to do is give Bush enough rope to hang himself.
Bush’s presidency has two more years to run. No-one thinks the 20,000 extra troops will make much difference, and if things go on the way they are the Iraq disaster will become a millstone around Republican necks, virtually guaranteeing a Democrat landslide in 2008. Even the dreaded “i”-word – impeachment – will become a possibility.
But there’s something deeply troubling about that calculation. It means hundreds, probably thousands, more young Americans, plus unknown numbers of Iraqis, will die for nothing: for a president’s stubbornness and an opposition’s political advantage. If Democrats have it within their power to stop that, then surely they should, regardless of the political cost. Isn’t that why they were elected?
There’s very little chance that they will – not just because they want Bush to wear the responsibility, but also because it would mean confronting the divisions in their own ranks.
The very thing that makes it impossible to take Bush seriously also hamstrings many of the Democrats: they approved the war in the first place and, like most of us, they don’t like to admit to being wrong. But until there is a frank admission that the whole project was criminally misconceived from the start, American policy in Iraq will remain detached from reality.