I hope the Iraqi people have been too busy with their own politics to pay attention to what's been going on here in the United States.
"I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid-December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice: The United States will immediately redeploy immediately redeploy."
So spoke Rep. John Murtha at a news conference on Nov. 17.
A day later, Murtha and his colleagues took up a resolution "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."
Given the opportunity to stand by his convictions, what did Murtha do?
In an overwhelming statement of bipartisanship, the measure failed 403-3, with Murtha himself voting against the resolution.
Murtha says it didn't capture the nuance of his immediacy. His qualified resolution calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq "at the earliest practicable date" a withdrawal that begins immediately but ends possibly in six months, not quite as immediately as immediately called for by Murtha on Nov. 17, but more immediately than President Bush has suggested.
The No. 2 Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, draws the line between immediately and precipitously: "I believe that a precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq could lead to disaster," Hoyer said in a media statement Nov. 30.
On CBS' "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer, Sen. John Kerry on Dec. 4 lent support to the chronologically chimerical withdrawal effort and eloquently added this bit of faint praise for our men and women in uniform: "And there is no reason, Bob, that young American soldiers need to be going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children."
Then Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean got in on the act. Dean is, for the moment, against an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and also against a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq over six months that begins immediately.
Dean does, however, support an immediate "redeployment" that would be completed over two years, a policy he thinks Democrats will coalesce around. And perhaps they will.
But they ran like hell from the rationale he offered on WOAI Radio last week to support this redeployment: "The idea that we're going to win this war is an idea that unfortunately is just plain wrong."
It's very easy for a political opposition to wail about what it is against. It's quite another for it to state clearly what it supports. The problem with constantly defining yourself politically only in terms of what you're against is that no one least of all the person doing the self-defining knows what you're for.
Which is how you arrive at a schizophrenic policy that calls for an immediate, but not too precipitous, redeployment of some, but not all, troops that's not a withdrawal and might, possibly, take place over a period of six to 18 months and is, somehow, radically different from the strategy Bush has put forward.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a voice of common sense and clarity among Democrats, describes the conflict in Iraq as one between 27 million people who want to live in freedom and 10,000 terrorists.
"What a colossal mistake it would be," Lieberman wrote in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "for America's bipartisan leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will." Like millions of Americans, he is anguished about events in Iraq and the exceedingly heavy toll it is exacting on the military community. He also recognizes, however, that defeatism in the United States is as great an enemy as any to be found in the theater of conflict.
The U.S. commitment in Iraq cannot be open-ended. It's the timing, not the incertitude, of this clamor for withdrawal that is the most troubling. As Iraqis bravely go to the polls once again and demonstrate their will to build a new, democratic society, Lieberman must occasionally wonder: Which side, the 27 million or the 10,000, do some of his colleagues want to see prevail?