Columns » Ernest Dumas

President Clark?

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No month goes by that does not affirm some bit of the educated wisdom that warned President Bush not to invade Iraq in the first place. Within weeks of the invasion, the U.S. military proved what all the real experts, including the weapons inspectors from America’s Scott Ritter forward, told them, that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and not even Bush’s famous fallback, “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.” Iraq had little capacity to threaten its neighbors, the Clinton administration having wiped out the air force and weakened the infantry and armed divisions so far that they could hardly have invaded Jordan. It was quickly apparent that, as the foreign-policy establishment warned, American alliances would be weakened, U.S. standing in the world undermined, the Middle East destabilized, Islamic extremism and terrorism fueled, the Muslim country torn apart by sectarian strife, and U.S. military forces stretched so thin that we could not influence far more dangerous situations like Iran and North Korea. Now comes virtual confirmation of the last dire prewar warning, that the occupation of Iraq would in the end reverse the one thing we sort of liked about Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime: It at least was secular. He hated Islamic radicals although his handling of them was hardly admirable. He tortured them and slew their families. President Bush promised to see to it that Iraq would have a democratic and secular government. The proposed new Iraqi constitution, praised by Bush, declares that the country will be an Islamic state and that no law can be passed that does not comply with Islamic rules, which shall be the source of all legislation. The Shia delegates satisfied the American advisers by including lip service to civil liberties far down in the document, including an Iraqi version of the Equal Rights Amendment, but Iraqi women know that it is useless pablum. Owing to all these predictable failings, President Bush’s poll numbers are about the lowest in history for this period in his presidency. Most Americans believe the war was a mistake and a third of them think the United States should pull out its troops. Where does that leave the Democrats in Congress, who by and large embraced war with Iraq as the first option and who, with rare but growing exceptions, still defend the war and the president’s stay-the-course strategy? Should not the same opprobrium be attached to those of either party who embraced and impelled the most destructive foreign-policy blunder in the last 80 years? Knowing what the consequences of the war were likely to be, they did it because they feared the chance that Bush might actually be successful and could pin them with being unpatriotic and soft on terrorism. Here is a proposal for Democrats: They should place a special burden on those who supported Bush and voted for the war resolution in 2002 before considering them for leadership, including the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. They must somehow dispel that lack of judgment or courage. Silence or timid criticisms of the president’s war-making tactics would not be enough. The list would include the hapless John Kerry and John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic team, and, yes, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who embraced Bush’s prewar lies almost as strongly as any Republican. Being brilliant and moderately progressive does not give her a pass on the overriding issue of her time in the Senate. And it would include Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the single semi-declared presidential candidate in 2008. Biden expects the issue to be behind him by 2008. He said last week he expected Bush, contrary to the president’s vows, to pull the troops out of Iraq by the end of next year if Iraq has not been stabilized. That would leave two viable candidates among the current prospects, Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and our own Gen. Wesley Clark, the former supreme NATO commander who, after a rough start, has argued consistently against the war but for strategies that might actually help Bush succeed. Feingold, who almost alone in the U.S. Senate yokes his votes to his conscience, cast one of the 23 Senate votes against empowering Bush to attack Iraq and now proposes that the United States declare its intentions to withdraw American forces by the end of next year and leave the country in the hands of the elected government and its own security forces. He is so far all alone. Clark is more diplomatic. Alone among all the politicians of either party — and that includes the entire Bush administration — he has outlined a plan for pacifying the factions and stabilizing the country that actually could make Bush a prophet. But, writing on the op-ed page of the Washington Post last week, he sounded fatalistic. “President Bush and his team,” Clark wrote, “are repeating the failure of Vietnam: failing to craft a realistic and effective policy and instead simply demanding that the American people show resolve. Resolve isn’t enough to mend a flawed approach — or to save the lives of our troops. If the administration won’t adopt a winning strategy, then the American people will be justified in demanding that it bring our troops home.” In the end, both men will be prophets with honor in their party — and a good ticket.

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