The Washington Times

No surprise, but Democrats on Capitol Hill and most everywhere else have checked out on Iraq, and they’re taking a few Republicans with them. Some people like to say that we can succeed in Iraq only if we have broad bipartisan agreement on the way forward. But the only way to obtain broad bipartisan agreement now would be for the Bush administration to acquiesce in the majority Democratic view that Iraq has been such a disaster that success is now impossible and the thing to do is get out as soon as practical.     

Thus the bipartisan agreement required for success depends on shared acceptance of the inevitability of failure. In other words, President Bush is on his own.    

At this point, I don’t think anything other than a fixed timetable for withdrawal would be satisfactory for Democrats in any case. We can all pretend that if only Mr. Bush had done X, he could have obtained at least a measure of bipartisan support. But seriously, does anyone think the anti-war mainstream of the Democratic Party would have been satisfied with the gradualism of the Iraq Study Group if Mr. Bush had adopted it? How about when Mr. Bush cited the ISG report in support of the very surge he has committed us to: “We could… support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad.”    

Some of the president’s supporters, meanwhile, have been firing back with the observation that many Democrats used to say we didn’t have enough troops in Iraq, and now that Mr. Bush has come around to their point of view, they’re against it. Sorry, but I don’t see inconsistency here: The point is that more troops then might have averted the security breakdown that has since occurred. That’s a different question from what to do once the breakdown has occurred. The real point of disagreement is whether more U.S. troops now can restore order and provide security. The mainstream Democratic position is that you can’t get there from here, and therefore you shouldn’t allow more American blood to spill.    

No, Democrats came back to power in Congress by running against this war. They haven’t quite figured out exactly what they mean by that, and they’re testing various options, but “more troops” is not one of them, and “victory” is not within their horizon. They are the anti-war party. Those who were opposed to the authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein in 2002 are now basking in the full glory of their foresight and wisdom. Those who voted in favor have mostly repudiated their previous positions.     

Democrats who did so prior to the 2004 election mainly cited supposed administration duplicity over weapons of mass destruction; the ones who did so afterward mainly cited administration incompetence. The first argument didn’t fly with the American people, or President Kerry and his Democratic Congress would have been stuck with the quagmire the past two years, but the second argument certainly did take wing.    

Democrats have been ambitiously theorizing about how to deliver practical domestic policy choices of the sort that Americans will admire for their common sense. I don’t think they yet have the slightest idea how much of their time and energy is about to be sucked into opposing the president over Iraq and the extent to which doing so will look like the centerpiece of their agenda.     

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who has unseated Karl Rove as Washington’s leading political genius, would like to queue up a “no confidence” vote on the president’s policy and move on. Good luck. Because once you pass a resolution like that, the question arises: If you don’t like it, what are you going to do about it? That is a question to which the most fervently anti-war Democrats are going to demand an answer. Their loathing and contempt for Mr. Bush and his war is going transmogrify into insistence that their party leaders press the case.     

There is locomotive force to the Democrats’ anti-war stance. The Democratic leadership is not driving it; it’s driving the Democratic leadership. And nobody knows where it’s going. Yes, it is reminiscent of the anti-Clinton fervor that animated so many Republicans during the mid-1990s. And yes, I’d say pretty soon we are more likely than not going to have some kind of separation-of-powers showdown over the war.    

Moreover, the latter-day flourishing of anti-war sentiment within the Democratic Party has its origins in Iraq, but it is unlikely to be confined to Iraq. Its current popularity is no indicator of its durability as the party’s No. 1 priority. How you switch it off is a very difficult question.     

The one thing, paradoxically, that might be helpful in re-centering the Democrats is an indication of success in Iraq thanks to Mr. Bush’s surge. If the new counterinsurgency strategy leads to a marked improvement in security in Baghdad, diminished salience for the extremists in the conflict and renewed interest in a political settlement among the more moderate elements, the effect in Washington might just be to lower the heat under a pot now heading toward full boil. Of course, that’s a mighty big “if.”