The time has come for conservatives, and all good Americans, to rally around the president, around the troops, and around the idea of victory in Iraq.
The reasons to rally are moral, practical, and political.
Moral: As Colin Powell was fond of saying: "You break it: You buy it." We Americans toppled Iraq's illegitimate, murderous government, but did not provide enough security from the very beginning of the post-war period. We owe it to finish the job.
Moral: President George W. Bush was correct that establishing a stable, even quasi-democratic Iraq could help spur a sea-change in the entire Middle East and central Asia. Before we lost control in Iraq, it was already happening. Libya's forfeiture of its nuclear weapons program and the pro-democratic developments in Ukraine, formerly Soviet Georgia, Lebanon, and (to a lesser extent) Egypt and Saudi Arabia, all were catalyzed by the toppling of Saddam Hussein and by Bush's soaring rhetoric about democracy. Even Ted Kennedy acknowledged as much. As columnist Larry Elder noted on March 17, 2005, " 'This Week's' George Stephanopoulos asked Kennedy whether President Bush deserves credit for democratic developments in the Middle East. Kennedy replied, 'Absolutely, absolutely, and I think...what's taken place in a number of those countries is enormously constructive. It's a reflection the president has been involved.'"
Moral: The United States of America is the most moral major force in geopolitics. (The American Left doesn't believe this, but that just shows its own ignorance and/or weak moral compasses.) Leaving Iraq a mess, effectively in defeat, will leave the U.S. horribly weakened diplomatically, just as the Vietnam War did. A weaker United States will be far less able to lead the world community on behalf of human rights, stability, and freedom.
Practical: Now that the president has made his decision, what is the alternative? What good does carping do? President Bush has tried the equivalent of a difficult bank shot in pool; the only way it can work is if other officials don't rock the table. The more they voice dissent, the less likely the Iraqis -- in government and on the streets -- will be to do their part to make the plan a success. And the only way for Bush to hold a strong enough hand to bring other nations on board to help is if he is seen as having significant support here at home. Victory is very, very difficult when the home front is not united. Last I checked, victory is still a highly valued commodity in these United States.
Practical: The surge may work. General David Petraeus is no dummy. If he thinks he and his troops can pull it off, who are we to contradict him?
Practical: Our troops are there already. Getting them out safely, without a victory, might be as difficult as it was to get all the American personnel out of Vietnam. A surge that might just work (by some counts, the president's plan will more than double the troops actually in the city of Baghdad) also might just buy enough time for planners to develop, in the alternative, the actual logistics for a comprehensive exit strategy -- logistics that likely are not fully formed yet. In that sense, even in defeat a troop surge might save the lives of more American personnel than it risks.
Then again, the mindset of American leaders -- other than military staff, who ought to always plan for any eventuality -- should be that defeat is not an option.
Political: Here's where so many Republican solons on Capitol Hill make no sense whatsoever. Some of them may honestly believe the surge won't work or even that the whole war was a bad idea in the first place. That's fine: Sticking by one's principled judgment is always a good thing. But it is patently obvious that a lot of the carping about the surge comes not from conviction but from lack thereof. Whatever metaphor is used about them -- spineless; fingers in the wind; weathervanes; running for the hills; fence-sitters -- it is clear that a lot of Members of Congress are spooked by the surface-level politics of the situation. They hated losing the elections, and now they are reading the short-term polls, and they think the safest thing to do is to say what is most immediately popular.
But if that is their motivation, they are (to be blunt) incredibly stupid. The truth is that no matter what they do individually, if Iraq is seen as a disaster two years from now, all Republicans will get blamed by the public and media for the failures of a Republican president. Their fates are tethered to that of President Bush's historical legacy. If the U.S. leaves Iraq without victory, Republicans (and conservatives, an oft-distinct set) will be punished. There is no way around it, even if the solons do verbal back-flips to try to separate themselves from the president.
On the other hand, every Republican who stands solidly with the president now, when he is most embattled, will garner a huge political advantage if the surge succeeds. The reality is that the left has painted itself into a corner. The entire public knows that the whole congressional Democratic Party is against the surge. Moreover, the public knows that the Democrats have been undercutting the president from just about Day One of the conflict in Iraq. They know that the Democrats, and the nutroot left, has not just sounded defeatist the whole time, but actually antagonistic toward the very idea of victory. The left long ago not only declared defeat but actually wished for it. The left thinks the United States is a negative influence in the world. It thinks our leaders deliberately lie, conspire, torture, maim, and kill.
And even the somewhat "responsible center-left" lacks faith in American might, ingenuity, and will. They see defeat before the clock has even run out. Witness Peter Beinart, editor-at-large of the New Republic, who in the most recent issue of that magazine writes in the concluding paragraph that "the United States has already lost."
If Beinart is right, then Republicans have already lost decisively, in terms of domestic politics, as well. But if the surge works, if Iraq's peace is secured, the left will be utterly discredited. Nobody who abandoned the president will be able to take advantage of that discrediting of the left -- but everybody who stood with President Bush will reap the rewards.
Moral and practical reasons alone should lead Republicans and intelligent Democrats to support the surge, in order to show American solidarity before a watching world, as the only viable option for victory still on the table. But for politicians crass and weak enough to put politics before morality and practicality, the politics of the situation (rightly understood) argue not against supporting Bush, but in favor.
What is past is past, including President Bush's long-infuriating, now-acknowledged mistakes. He remains our president, and we remain Americans, and Americans are a good and mighty people. Our cause in Iraq, and against terrorists worldwide, is just. Let's give the president the support he needs to lead that cause to victory.