Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The War in Iraq - Bush's Big Gamble

Opinion pieces on the President's speech in both the New York Times and the New York Post Today see him staking his Presidency on the situation in Iraq.

David Brooks takes a pessimistic slant in Bush's Epic Gamble:
"It's a huge gamble to think that the solution to chaos is liberty. But it's fitting that during the gravest crisis of his presidency, President Bush reverted to his most fundamental political belief. He began this war in Iraq repeating the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that our creator has endowed all human beings with the right to liberty, and the ability to function as democratic citizens. He said last night with absolute confidence that the Iraqis are democrats at heart.

Bush is betting his presidency, and the near-term future of this nation, on that central American creed."
wondering whether it will work;
"Because, let's face it, we don't know whether all people really do want to live in freedom. We don't know whether Iraqis have any notion of what democratic citizenship really means. We don't know whether they hear words like freedom, liberty and pluralism as deadly insults to the way of life they hold dear. We don't know who our enemies are. Are they the small minority of Baathists and jihadists, or is there a little bit of Moktada al-Sadr in every Iraqi's breast?".
Leaving aside the fact that I don't think the Declaration mentions anything about "the ability to function as democratic citizens", it seems like Mr. Brooks is a little down on the whole "democracy" thing in general, declaring that a failure in Iraq will call into question its universality and America's role as its biggest promoter.

I don't think that's the case. Democracy, once established, has proven pretty resilient in a lot of places. Not to say there haven't been setbacks. Just in the 20th century, both fascism and communism were deadly threats that hijacked democratic nations and enslaved billions. Today, Islamic fascism poses the same type of threat.

Mr. Brooks is wrong to say,as he does, that the success of Democracy depends solely on the truth of its universality and not on either our skill or incompetence in trying to implement it. Although he thinks nation-building is somewhat "anti-democratic" it worked well in Japan and Germany, and counting the Marshall Plan, a large part of Europe following WWII. America's commitment to building a democratic nation on the ruins of Saddam's Iraq is critical.

In the Post, John Podhoretz is more upbeat. In Bush Bets the House he lauds the President for staying the course:
"Bush is a high-stakes player, a political gambler. And last night he took a fantastically bold gamble: In the teeth of bad polls, an atmosphere of panic in his own party and the barely concealed glee of his rivals . . . he has decided to stand pat.

He didn't change course last night. He didn't use the occasion to announce elevated troop levels or faster elections or any of the panacea urged upon him over the past few weeks (including by me).

In other words, he is betting his presidency on the soundness of his approach and its prospects for success."
Mr. Podhoretz finds it heartening that the country, as demonstrated in the polls, is taking the war in Iraq seriously:
"The American people are identifying themselves and their country's fortunes with the progress or perceived lack of progress in Iraq. They're not just floating away on a tide of good news. The nation is at war, and the nation is taking that war seriously."
Mr. Podhoretz sees the good news from Iraq that has been drowned out by coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal; success on the battlefield, denunciations of Muqtada al-Sadr by fellow Shiite clerics, as evidence that President Bush is not just being stubborn.

Whether you take the pessimistic or optimistic view, it's clear that, with the recent improvements in the economy taking it out of play as an issue, both the reality and perception of the situation in Iraq will be determinative in the upcoming election.