Whatever else it was, our midterm election was clearly a "no confidence" vote on the way the administration has handled the war in Iraq. But that's not the extent of it: Democrats argue that it was a vote to get out of Iraq and Republicans argue that it was a vote to win in Iraq -- or at least not to lose.
The election was also hailed as a victory for our sworn enemies, and -- while he was at it -- the new al Qaeda leader in Iraq said their ultimate goal was to "blow up the White House," presumably whether it had Republicans or Democrats in it.
The irony: Had we initially committed overwhelming forces in Iraq -- as several generals advised -- and controlled totally the postwar environment, preventing insurgents from arming and gathering strength, voter opinions would have been far different. Likewise, had we chosen only to settle the question about weapons of mass destruction question (as this was the justification for the war in the first place) and knock down Saddam's regime (but left the Sunnis in charge) our operation in Iraq would have also been viewed by voters as successful. And, with either of these alternatives, the insurgencies could not have taken hold, albeit for different reasons.
We didn't do either -- whether realizing it or not, we adopted a policy of gradualism in Iraq while installing and protecting a Shi-ite regime friendly to Iran.
We didn't call it "gradualism": The president and other senior officials continue to say the situation in Iraq is "dynamic," that the tactics need to change day to day and we must be flexible to deal with the various enemies such as we now have there.
While such may be true as a matter of fact, and may even conform to some traditional doctrines of the employment of military forces, it also explains why our most persistent enemies in Iraq continue to fight us so aggressively. To them, it looks like they have almost won and driven us out, and that they will ultimately be successful.
This is not the state of mind we were after: We wanted them to decide their cause was most probably lost (or not achievable by terror tactics) and that they needed to negotiate their role and status in a new multicultural and "federal" Iraq. Big surprise: This was way too sophisticated an idea for suicide bombers to understand -- and it was probably the worst way we could have chosen to deal with the various factions in a post-Saddam Iraq, none of whom have ever had any incentive to compromise, especially now.
After all, these people have -- for thousands of years -- shown absolutely no restraint in dealing with enemies or rivals for the control of territory or governmental corruption. To them, the gradual application of force to achieve a political or military result is only an indicia of weakness and proves there is no courage of conviction.
And now, especially after our midterm election, they are even more convinced we don't have the stomach for it. And they may be right.
What to do now?
The Iraq Study Group is wrestling with this very question. The "real answer" isn't hard at all: If we want to win (or "not lose") only the massive increase of forces on the ground will convince the insurgents -- of whichever faction -- that their cause is futile and that they had better sit down and take part in the formation of a new Iraq.
But don't expect any agreement with this on our side -- in addition to the stalemate in Iraq, Democrats have been handed a political victory by the Bush administration and will want to capitalize on it -- especially for the 2008 presidential election.
As for the continuing terrorist threat from violent Muslim extremists, Democrats believe -- primarily -- in conciliation and will get lots of encouragement to avoid confrontation and strident statements, especially from the Euros, who have chosen to not confront the radical Muslim threat even though it permeates their societies.
And, with the Democrats in control of Congress, we will be pressured to reduce radically our presence in the Middle East. Nevertheless, we will continue to be attacked -- worldwide -- by radical and violent Muslim extremists, using whatever new and horrible weapons they can get their hands on: A nuclear or biological attack on the American homeland remains their ultimate goal. Listen to them -- it's what they want to do.
Bottom line? As with the new al Qaeda threat to "blow up the White House," the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the planning for September 11, 2001, that started soon thereafter, the attack on the USS Cole and the bombed U.S. embassies in Africa -- it won't matter at all to the violent Muslim radicals that Democrats have won control of the U.S. Congress -- or if they win the presidency in 2008. They don't care -- they want to kill all of us, Democrat or Republican.
More important, a new policy based on the assumption that our sworn and fanatical enemies will respond to our offers of conciliation is irresponsibly naive and will only set the stage for another attack on our homeland. Whatever the mid term election means, Americans did not vote for this -- and it's needlessly tragic for us to have to learn it again whether we have the political resolve to win in Iraq.
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