- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

Those of us who strongly disagree with what the new Democratic majorities in Congress are trying to do about Iraq need to remember that there was recently an election in which the American voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the state of American policy in that part of the world.

I happen to think that the American voter was saying in November that the performance of our strategy was not working, and that it was time to try something new. Anti-war Democrats see it differently, of course. They see the vote as a mandate to pull our troops out of Iraq immediately. They believe that President Bush lied to the American people in order to get us into that war, and they don’t see the strategic reasons why we are there now.

This is the mess we’re always in. Every two years we elect a new Congress, and every four years we elect a new president. That’s how the American democratic republic works. In between, we have men and women we vote into office to make decisions on our behalf. These men and women come from districts and states which have a distinctive character, and which at any given moment usually hold views that are more singular than the country as a whole.

Thus, an urban legislator from the North will likely reflect more anti-war sentiment than will a rural legislator from the South or West. Then we have the president of the United States, whose job is not only to assess public opinion, but to determine what are the interests of the whole nation and how to protect them.

No president can ignore public opinion, especially when it is expressed in a national election as it was in 2006. On the other hand, no president can or should allow an interpretation of public opinion to trump our national interests. That would be a scenario for national disaster, and a gross failure of the system of our democratic republic.

I have been writing for some time about the fact that there are many very critical issues which need to be addressed not only in our foreign policy, but in our domestic policy as well. Neither the voters nor their representatives have seemed willing to make the hard decisions necessary to grapple successfully with these issues. I am making a distinction here between the mess we’re always in, i.e., our representative democracy, and the mess we are now in.

Journalists, academics, moralists and idealists can tut-tut about the former. Words always seem neater and simpler than reality, and we love to use words to make the world seem less complicated than it is. But our little national experiment has made its way for more than 200 years, and has come to be the most powerful and advanced, albeit imperfect, society on Earth.

It is the latter dilemma, the mess we are now in, about which we cannot so glibly dissemble. Our achievements and our tribulations through two full centuries — enduring a civil war, two world wars, a cold war and now a war against global terrorism — should give us no reason for smugness and mere satisfaction. It is only in the present and in how we are planning for what is to come that we can claim success for ourselves. By that standard, we are in trouble.

I do not wish to make a partisan argument. On the various critical issues facing America today, factions of Republicans and Democrats alike have distracted the country and prevented genuine solutions to our problems. I believe that when the time comes in January 2009 for a new president to take on the astoundingly hard job of leading our nation through the subsequent four years, it can be either a Democrat or a Republican.

Yet I don’t think any desire to avoid partisanship can avoid how either party behaves in regard to our national interests. If the Democratic leadership interprets its mandate to withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately, and to send a signal of surrender to our enemies, then they are in my opinion wrong. But in expressing so strongly its dissatisfaction in the 2006 elections, the American voter is now complicit in what is unfolding in Washington. Do the American people want to acknowledge defeat in Iraq, withdraw, let the terrorists ravage the Iraqi people, as surely they will (and most ominously) invite our enemies in the world to take advantage of our lack of will?

Poll numbers do not answer that question. Those who wish to lead us have to explain clearly what are truly the dangers and problems we face, and what are our national choices to resolve them. We do not want to rid ourselves of the mess we’re always in, but we do need to deal with the mess we’re now in. It’s time for much more serious conversation than soundbites, insults and distractions.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.


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