The theory seems to be percolating that President Bush is walking into a political trap here at home by readying a plan to rush more troops to Iraq to reinforce our GIs in the thick of the fight. Senator Biden, a Democrat, and Senator Warner, a Republican, are hyperventilating about how they want to consider the plan. Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi are in open opposition. By our lights it would be just dandy if they manage to force a vote on the issue. Go ahead and make the president's day. We have more than 100,000 GIs in Iraq being swarmed by a host of enemies, including some under direct orders from Al Qaeda and many supplied and financed from neighboring, terror-sponsoring countries. A showdown on what the Congress is prepared to do about it is just what the president needs.
We have no illusions about the fickleness of the Congress. We learned all about that in the fall of 1974 and the spring of 1975, when Congress put the skids under a free Vietnam. Yet even by that standard the speed with which the Democratic leadership is sounding the retreat in the Battle of Iraq must be unique in American history. The new speaker and the majority leader in the Senate chose their first day on the job to send their letter to the president telling him they intend to block the reinforcements, whatever the consequences to our men and women on the field of battle. The Pelosi-Reid epistle is one of the most shameful documents in the history of our national legislature — and that's no mean feat.
The new speaker and majority leader claimed to want to "do everything we can to help Iraq succeed in the future." They asserted that adding more combat troops would only "endanger more Americans and stretch our military to the breaking point for no strategic gain." They said "the way forward is to begin the phased redeployment of our forces in the next four to six months. ... " They called for a "renewed diplomatic strategy. ... " And just to make it clear, they wrote: "In short, it is time to begin to move our forces out of Iraq … it is time to bring the war to a close."
The letter tries to put their opposition to additional troops in the mouths of Mr. Bush's generals. It wouldn't be the first time that the Democrats have found themselves recently in the position of opposing or undermining civilian control of the military — the last time was their effort to stir an uprising of the retired generals against Secretary Rumsfeld. It's quite something to behold, especially because the Democrats spent so much of the past campaign complaining about the conduct of the war by the same generals they now cite as authorities.
No one dismisses the dangers reinforcements will encounter in the crossfire of sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites. But imagine how different history would have been had France flinched at sending more of its fighters to be caught in the crossfire of what might have been called a civil war between American patriots and Britain's Tories in the American colonies. Or had America flinched at sending more of our men into the crossfire between the British and the Nazis over the future of Europe. The more serious criticism is that no effort to secure Baghdad will be successful without addressing the support for jihadists from Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
It is, in any event, breath-taking to imagine how the Reid-Pelosi letter is going to be read in the caves of Al Qaeda, in the defense ministry in Damascus, and by President Ahmadinejad and his camarilla. It may yet prove a mistake to judge the full Democratic majority by the Pelosi-Reid letter. Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in the New Yorker this week, gives a far more nuanced reprise of the views of the Democratic field. President Bush, if he stands his ground and makes a careful case, may well find the common ground he's been talking about.
Surely the American people are not without a sense of history. They just finished burying a beloved president, Gerald Ford. He was remembered for a lot of things. One of them was that he strove against a Congress that was determined to cut off our GIs and our allies in the middle of a fight. He lost that fight, and the loss that America — and freedom — suffered still shadows America's name. Such a loss is not something any political party will want to repeat, particularly not when we are well less than two years away from a presidential election that will turn in good part on how the two parties and the new Congress perform at a time when our GIs are in the toughest seasons of the war.