A veteran of many Republican and conservative battles writes the following in response to my “ What About Iraq” post:
Paul’s suggestion about thinking through carefully what American security interests require and adjusting our strategy in Iraq to protect them — even at the expense of other worthwhile but excessively costly goals — reflects his usual cool-headed and nuanced approach. Let me add a couple of thoughts.
In implementing this strategy, the President should state clearly, as Paul has, what we are doing and why, and what it’s going to look like. The electorate is likely to be more accepting if the costs and specific objectives of American policy are spelled out in advance than if, as has proved to be the case up to now, we forge ahead without being fully candid about (or perhaps without knowing as well as we should) what the price will be.
We should never have been hearing about “Mission Accomplished” or the insurgency being in its “last throes.” It is true that these words were taken out of context and used in a misleading way against the President. But this was absolutely predictable, and the anti-war attacks based on them had SOME basis in truth. The Administration has been too eager to advertise successful mid-point achievements as “victory” and too reluctant to warn of the costs that a real long term victory will entail. My sense of it is that the public is willing to accept casualties at roughly their current level. . .; what it is unwilling to accept, as was demonstrated on Tuesday, is being led down what it increasingly sees as the garden path.
Thus, the President, in introducing Paul’s policy (should he be wise enough to adopt it), should say up front that Americans will continue to see on the nightly news pictures of gruesome bloodshed and violence. The pictures won’t be any prettier than they have been up to now. But American troops will now have a more focused and in some ways a more scaled-back mission, one that is central to the imperative of preventing Iraq from becoming the next Afghanistan. We cannot allow that and we will not. With great valor, our troops have given the Iraqis a chance to build a democracy, but it is up to the Iraqis to make that democracy work. With equal valor, our troops have provided what often amounted to domestic policing, but that too is not something we promised, or can do, indefinitely. What we can and must do is protect our own security interests, both by eradicating the Osama wannabees in Iraq, and more broadly by showing our friends (and especially our enemies) that America will use such force as necessary, for as long as necessary, to prevent terrorism from gaining another launching base.
It is late in the day. Still, I think there is a decent likelihood that the electorate will accept that approach. If it can’t or won’t, our country’s troubles run deeper than President Bush can cure.