Iraq and 2008: A ballot issue and two visions

There was an interesting exchange yesterday at the Politico. Tom DeLay and Martin Frost agreed that Iraq is likely to be the dominant issue of the 2008 Presidential election. DeLay stated it as a certainty, but Frost allowed for the possibility that we might pull out:

The only question is whether a definitive decision about our continued involvement in Iraq will be made prior to the November 2008 elections, particularly the wide-open presidential election.

I believe the status quo cannot continue for the next 18 months. If I’m right, and major changes in Iraq policy are made very soon, the 2008 presidential election will wind up turning on other issues. If I’m wrong, then nothing else will matter.

Of course, in typical Democratic fashion, Frost ignores that "major changes have been made". DeLay had a different view which I, no DeLay fan, would agree with:

As long as most Republicans want to fight and win the war in Iraq, a conflict they see as the irrefutable central front in the global war on terror, while most Democrats want to cut and run, then the American people are faced with one prohibitively important decision.

Right now, it is clear that the people, with the information that they currently have, will likely support the Democrats’ (to my mind, immoral) position. With that in mind, I want to turn to a discussion that I took part in yesterday with the Iraqi government’s spokesman Ali Aldabbagh. (also discussed at Q and O and The Weekly Standard)

Aldabbagh expressed a hope that was encouraging to hear, and a hope echoed in Fuoad Ajami’s piece in today’s WSJ. I asked him to give tangible indicators of success and he spoke of economic development:

  • More than a 100-fold increase in teacher pay (in real terms), new and re-opened factories, etc.)
  • Increased arrests (1,700 since the beginning of the surge and the new Iraqi security plan two months ago)
  • More public cooperation with the Iraqi government manifested in actionable intelligence against the terrorists, etc.

In the end, this will come down to a simple question. Will the American people believe that the next 10 American lives and several billion dollars will make a real, tangible difference in the lives of Iraqis and our own security? Will that blood and treasure save, for example, 2,000 Iraqi lives by preventing some number of attacks? And will that prevention be due to a political change in Iraq? If so, that could very well be worth it.

However, the Bush administration and John McCain, now perhaps the most trusted and articulate defender of the war, will need to communicate the successes that are taking place on the ground and the hope that the Iraqi people feel. Without facts supporting that hope, the American people will almost certainly come to support the Democrats morally empty position. (I should say that it is only morally empty if you believe that there is a chance of success) Without facts that are contrary to the ones that they are receiving, the American people would have to come to that conclusion.

The Democratic primary electorate has almost certainly bought into the idea that this is unwinnable, which is why Hillary Clinton has tacked to the left, and is one of the reasons for Barack Obama’s success. He was quoted in AP yesterday saying:

I have stated clearly and unequivocally that the open-ended occupation has to end.

By calling our deployment to help the Iraqi people an "occupation" he has lowered the moral status of our mission there. That is quite a different vision from Tom DeLay’s above or McCain‘s:

There is no guarantee that we will succeed, but we must try. As every sensible observer has concluded, the consequences of failure in Iraq are so grave and so threatening for the region, and to the security of the United States, that to refuse to give Petraeus’s plan a chance to succeed would constitute a tragic failure of American resolve.

One can only hope that McCain and Bush succeed in communicating the seriousness of this moment. Or we risk repeating the past and have more letters like this one, written on the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. The New York Times reported this fall with the headline, "Indochina Without Americans: For Most, a Better Life." Soon after the Khmer Rouge began the killing of over 1.5m people.