Sunday, May 27, 2007

We All Want Out of Iraq...

...but we can't shirk our responsibilities.

I'm going to stick with Matthew Yglesias (who I've been reading quite a bit of since The Atlantic picked him up as one of their regular bloggers), although many people have expressed similar sentiments about the Iraq funding bill, particularly at the major liberal blog sites. Yglesias was disappointed that Democrats didn't fight on the funding bill to the bitter end. I dissent. I was hugely critical of the Democratic votes in favor of the original Iraq war authorization bill, and my bitterness on that front has not receded a bit these past five years. But I think that Democrats in Congress did what needed to be done with this funding bill. They fought a good fight in the public eye, passing a bill with benchmarks and defending it in the media although it was doomed to be vetoed from the start. They forced Republican congressmen to stand up and publicly support the president's policy in Iraq (a stand many of them will regret next year). They pushed the president to negotiate with them, and were rebuffed. He was not going to negotiate. And if we have learned anything about George Bush, we should know that he would not have backed down, regardless of what the Democrats did. They simply didn't have the votes to overcome a veto, and everyone knew it. That left them with but two options: capitulate or defund the Iraq war.

I want out of Iraq as much as anyone, but I would not have us abandon our responsibilities there. A precipitous and complete withdrawal is just not an option. Extricating ourselves from this mess will be a delicate operation. I believe we need to get our troops out soon, because as far as I can tell all they are accomplishing is to maintain a miserable status quo. Our presence is inhibiting any progress by the Iraqis and preventing the situation from evolving. But I have no confidence with respect to what happens when we leave. Things could move in any direction from there. Some of what might happen (and here I have visions of Rwanda) would be utterly intolerable. If we see things proceeding in that direction I feel that we will be obligated to bring the troops back in to put a lid on things and try again. Even if it costs us, even if we don't have a clear path to success. We have a responsibility, an obligation to the Iraqi people that I hope we do not forsake. We will need to be careful with our withdrawal and keep sufficient force in the region to react to events as needed. We will need to maneuver deftly to retain enough influence in Iraq to nudge things in the right direction without appearing to interfere. Defunding the Iraq war will not accomplish that. What we need is open heart surgery, and the only tool the Democratic Congress had was a sledgehammer.

This means, of course, that we will have to continue to live with Bush's management of the war for the time being. So be it. Elections have consequences, and the American people voted for the war in the 2002 midterm election and ratified that decision when they reelected George Bush in 2004. Last year's midterm doesn't erase all that. Now we're stuck with the president we have. Maybe over the next year enough Republican congressmen will defect to allow Congress to force a responsible withdrawal on Bush. If so, great. If not, then we just have to live with him until we can get a president who can deal with this conflict like an adult. The hardline "bring the troops home now" positions I see on so many liberal blogs these days are no more responsible than the policies Bush is pursuing in Iraq today. It's no cause for celebration, but Democrats in Congress did what needed to be done, and I respect them for it.

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