Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Iraq Trap

Politics, like chess, is a game where skillful maneuvering often determines the difference between success and failure. I believe that President Bush is setting a deadly trap for Democrats with his push for more troops in Iraq, and that Senator Reid is one of the few Dems who has recognized the danger and is responding appropriately.

The key to understanding the trap is to recognize that although Democrats can cut off funding for additional troops, Bush can still send them to Iraq anyway. As Commander-in-Chief he doesn't need Democratic permission to do so, nor does he need extra appropriations to get them there, only to supply and equip them once they arrive.

By simply sending more troops to Iraq, despite the objections of Democrats, Bush can change the entire debate from the wisdom of the war itself to the question of who does and doesn't support our troops. The American public may not support the war, but they will not stand for anything that's seen as hurting our troops. Bush can drive a wedge between Democrats in Congress, who will have no choice but to bow to his demands for extra war spending to prevent the inevitable shortages of supplies and equipment, and the antiwar left which will be furious at the Democratic Party for voting to enlarge the war.

In this sort of situation Bush wins no matter what we do. Not only does he get exactly what he wants in terms of the war, he also splits the Democratic Party right down the middle in the process. The only practical way out of this trap is to support Bush's call for more troops, but to make such support conditional on a hard deadline to withdraw from Iraq. A poison pill of sorts. That way Democrats can appeal to both the public's desire to support the troops, and to get the hell out of Iraq as quickly as possible.

Harry Reid appears to have spotted this trap and recognized what we must do to avoid it. He says that he'd go along with an increase in troops if it's part of a program to get out of Iraq "by this time next year." But Reid's position is opposed by many other Democrats, and he's being savaged by much of the progressive and antiwar left.

If we fight this battle on Bush's terms then he will win, no matter what we do. And if Republicans successfully portray Dems as failing to support our troops, or as being responsible for "losing" Iraq, then the political damage to the left will likely last for decades, as it did after Vietnam.

I'm an antiwar activist, and I don't want this war to continue for another second. But this is a lot bigger than the war in Iraq, and the outcome may well determine who will control American foreign policy for a generation. We must succeed, and supporting Reid's position, no matter how distasteful, is the only practical way to do so.

(I wrote this as a post on DailyKos. It's a condensed and focussed version of a previous post here on my blog.)

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