- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

Despite images of failure on the nonstop news that are the sad reality of President Bush’s Iraq war policy, Senate and House Democratic leaders seem to be painting the one image of themselves that could cause Americans to reject their party, yet again, in 2008.

Given a blank canvas, fresh paint and brushes, top congressional Democrats began painting not the big picture but the floor. And by the time they looked up, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid had just about painted themselves into a corner.

Democrats chose to force an end to Mr. Bush’s unpopular war by using the one weapon Americans really don’t want to use: Money for our troops, just when they are caught in the cross-fire of a civil war.

When Democrats chose to attach their troop-withdrawal deadlines to an urgent war-funding bill, they ceded to our failed president a moral high ground he could never have captured himself. Namely: If we cut off funding while our troops are fighting, we put them in greater danger. So the president rushed to proclaim he would veto any bill with any troop-withdrawal dates — the better to create a crisis of confrontation he could win. Mr. Reid and Mrs. Pelosi, meanwhile, pushed their party toward a confrontation they were not going to win, while communicating no clear course of responsible action.

So it fell to a junior Senate Democrat to show his elders how to tell it like it is — yet cherish the safety of our troops. “I think that nobody wants to play chicken with our troops on the ground,” said Sen. Barack Obama. For uncomplicated clarity, the freshman Illinois Democrat’s observation was right up there with the boy who remarked on the absence of the emperor’s new clothes. “I do think a majority of the Senate has now expressed the belief that we need to change course in Iraq.”

Mr. Obama made his comment in an Associated Press interview in Iowa, where he is campaigning to become his party’s presidential standard-bearer. It is a role he has not earned by virtue of his years in Washington. But it is a role he perhaps has earned by the clarity of his conceptual thinking and communication skill — traits that have never been cultivated in the fertile (see also fertilized) fields of Capitol Hill.

Mr. Obama is among those who have called for a total withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq by March 31, 2008. But he doesn’t want to force a showdown that becomes a crisis — with U.S. troops as pawns in harm’s way. The specter of a president vetoing a spending bill and Democrats then forcing a shutdown of a military at war — just when a new surge is under way — could be disastrous for Democrats despite the myriad Bush Team failures.

“Obviously we’re constrained by the fact that a commander in chief who also has veto power has the option of ignoring that position,” Mr. Obama said.

On Monday, the world saw a harsh reality that our flummoxed president has refused to see. Four years ago, when Mr. Bush ordered the Iraq invasion, his officials spoke of cheering, flower-strewing Iraqis who would soon fill the streets to hail heroes who freed them from the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Especially grateful would be Iraq’s Shi’ite majority, whose leaders Saddam killed or jailed.

Now this: Many thousands of Iraqis indeed filled the streets of the holy city of Najaf on Monday, called to demonstrate by the militant Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr. They cheered Sheik al-Sadr’s bloody call for Iraqis to stop killing Iraqis and to start killing the Americans who liberated them.

Democrats need to make it clear that, like Mr. Bush, they know America will face new danger if Iraq becomes a failed state, a haven from which terrorists can attack the West. But Democrats must also say what Mr. Bush never admits: There is no evidence the collapse of Iraq can be prevented short of U.S. troops ruling Iraq forever. And that is not an option. Democrats must vocally hope for success by our new Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus, who says we’ll see evidence by summer’s end whether the 30,000-troop surge is making Baghdad safer.

Democrats need to make it clear now they are the party that hopes for the best but has the guts to face reality and do what must be done. Come September, if the surge has failed, America’s elected representatives must sadly recognize the inevitable and enforce a withdrawal of brave troops who won the Iraqi war but found it impossible to win the Iraqi peace.

Martin Schram is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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