Democrats, like the Palestinians in Abba Eban's trenchant phrase, "never miss an
opportunity to miss an opportunity."
President Bush's heart is in the right place in the war on terror. But when it
comes to the war in Iraq, many Americans wonder if his head isn't in a moist, dark,
odoriferous place that is anatomically difficult to reach.
I think deposing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. But a respectable case
can be made that it was a strategic mistake. We could really use another U.S.
brigade in Afghanistan right now, but reinforcements are unavailable because of
commitments in Iraq. And the tete a tete between Iraqi prime minister Nouri al
Maliki and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week is not a sign that bodes
well for the future.
Even those of us who think going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do must
acknowledge the first year of the occupation was FUBAR. (Ask a vet what the acronym
means.) To read the litany of egregious mistakes chronicled in Washington Post
reporter Tom Ricks' only slightly over the top new book, "Fiasco," can't help but
make you wonder if those who made those mistakes can be trusted to organize a two
I like Donald Rumsfeld. But I think he's the second worst secretary of defense
ever. (Nobody will ever be worse than Robert McNamara.)
There are many similarities between Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. McNamara. Both came from
private industry determined to impose management reforms on the Pentagon. Both did
indeed make badly needed, long overdue changes. But both were undone by mistakes
they made in the wars they oversaw.
The mistakes had similar roots. Both Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. McNamara were noted more
for giving advice than for taking it. Both surrounded themselves with civilian
"whiz kids" who had little knowledge of, or interest in, the complexities of ground
combat, or much respect for people who wore uniforms.
There are also important differences. Mr. McNamara had a credibility problem
Secretary Rumsfeld doesn't have. And Mr. Rumsfeld is popular with the troops
(though not with the generals). Secretary McNamara was despised pretty much equally
by all ranks.
The war in Iraq is unpopular. Democrats could have made a reasonable case against
the administration on the basis of competence, but they have blown it with
overreach, and have shifted the debate back to the larger war on terror, where the
President is on firmer ground.
Bush as bumbling fool is a makeable argument. Bush as Satan is not. It was
arguably a strategic mistake to go to war with Iraq. But when the Director of
Central Intelligence who was appointed by Mr. Bush's Democratic predecessor
tells him Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction is a "slam dunk," that
mistake (if indeed it was a mistake) cannot be attributed to malevolence or
We might be better off (though I don't think so) if we hadn't gone to war in Iraq.
But it is morally obscene to assert, as some Democrats have, that Iraqis would be
better off if Saddam were still in power.
It is preposterous to assert, as most Democrats do, that there is no connection
between the war in Iraq, and the war on terror, when al Qaida's leaders insist Iraq
is the central front in the war on terror, and al Qaida's commitment of resources to
that conflict indicates they mean what they say.
And many Americans who think it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place
think it would be a bigger one to leave precipitously, as most Democrats recommend.
But where Democrats most resemble the Palestinians is in their strident opposition
to virtually every step the president has taken to protect us in the broader war on
- Democrats blocked, for a time, reauthorization of the Patriot Act which, among
other things, broke down the "wall" that prevented information sharing between law
enforcement and intelligence.
- Democrats are stalling congressional authorization of the program in which the
National Security Agency listens in on conversations between al Qaida operatives
abroad and people in the United States.
- Democrats also are stalling legislation to try al Qaida bigwigs in military
- Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis) has even criticized President Bush for calling
All this explains why Mr. Bush's poll numbers have been going up even as opposition
to the war in Iraq increases. Better to stick with a president who's made mistakes
in fighting the war on terror than to trust Democrats who don't even realize we're