editorial (2006-40)

Cut Our Losses

Let’s try to contain the damage we’ve already done

Cut Our Losses

The disclosures in Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial , won’t bring down the Bush administration. It has already brought itself down. Its initiation and preposterous management of the war in Iraq has accomplished what Democrats couldn’t. The president has discredited himself and put his party majorities in Congress in jeopardy in this fall’s elections with his dogged retention of both his defense secretary and his Iraq policy.

The former is under fire from generals and field officers who have served in Iraq and who now question his competence to proceed with what’s left of a war there. The latter has pulled the president’s approval rating by voters down to near record lows for a sitting chief executive.

The upward nudge in public approval Bush received after his stirring speech on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America has been undercut in the weeks since by criticisms from the military and the stark reality that the situation in Iraq is so chaotic that even the experts on the Middle East can’t agree on whether there is a civil war between violence-prone elements of Islamic factions going on there.

The speech on Sept. 11 reassured some Americans that the United States is on the right track in continuing to commit our troops in pursuit of peace and democracy in Iraq. It only served to remind us that five years have passed with Osama bin Laden still at large, that the Taliban movement and its mayhem are resurging in Afghanistan, that our position in the world is teetering and the sympathy from and approbation by other nations and their peoples has been squandered, and that radical Jihadist Islam is spreading, rather than shrinking, as our forces remain, and remain impotent in Iraq.

Comes now Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who has dutifully backed the president on every security issue and the Iraq war. He says this week that the Taliban can’t be defeated militarily in Afghanistan, where he just made an official visit, and should be coaxed to participate in the U.S.-backed government as a way to induce that vast and militant Islamist group to curtail its violent activities.

Never mind that we’ve been slaughtering Taliban leaders as we could find them for the last five years and continue to do so, and Frist advocates that. It’s a paradox that underscores the conclusion reached decades ago by the former Soviet Union: A military adventure in Afghanistan is folly, given the ingenuity and resolve of Afghan guerilla fighters.

The upshot of Frist’s contradictory revelation is that we should have known that military might is not going to succeed in achieving our aims either in Afghanistan or in Iraq, where factional fighting will rage in spite of free elections and where the violence-prone among both Sunnis and Shiites are bent on ridding their land of American occupation forces. Their guerilla tactics are every bit as effective as those of the Afghan Mujahadeen of the Soviet era, and that effectiveness is compounded by the willingness of the faithful to conduct suicide bombing attacks in the name of holy war against the infidel—us.

Jimmy Duncan, the Republican congressman from Knoxville, has seen the futility of the U.S. mission in Iraq all along and has opposed it consistently, despite the pleadings and threats he fielded from the Bush administration and some of his influential GOP colleagues.

He has been campaigning, and not so quietly, for the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq to cut our losses. In that, he supports our troops much better than do those who insist we must stay the course until some semblance of victory, however shallow, can be declared won.

Rep. Duncan is not fazed by the Bush administration’s admonition against a “cut and run” strategy. He sticks with his analogy: If you find yourself going the wrong way on the interstate, turn around.

Our congressman deserves our votes, our encouragement, and the best of our wishes as he keeps up the struggle to introduce a bit of good sense into the U.S. position in Iraq. U.S. policy there has degenerated into a single-minded approach that is propped up only by pride.

The same sort of prideful posturing is what caused the Vietnam War to drag on and on, from the 1960s well into the ’70s, in spite of dwindling support from the American people and the patently obvious point that we were not winning that war and were losing young men and women in vain there.

The same thing is happening in Iraq. Those in the administration who refuse to recognize that are running themselves and their party out of office for the sake of their own pride and vanity. The pity is that that process takes time and that many more Americans and innocent Iraqis will die or be maimed in the ugly interim.