Wednesday, June 6, 2007

So all that divides the Democratic presidential candidates — vide their debate in New Hampshire last Sunday — is who hates the war worst; because, as all Americans supposedly agree, the whole thing is a shambles attributable to the ego of George W. Bush; and it remains only to see who can stick President Bush hardest and most lastingly with the shame, the reprobation, the .. .

There comes a time when you don’t want even to parody words such as the Democratic candidates swapped with each other, because the effect is so soul-sapping.

The Democratic presidential candidates can’t stand Mr. Bush. All right — that’s their constitutional privilege. They want the war over. All right — name an American from the White House down to the Cindy Sheehan for Sainthood Club who doesn’t want the war over.

What the Democratic presidential candidates neglect to tell us, the public, is how they would affect this wonderful result without ruin to the Iraqis and shame to themselves.

I have a possible answer for the second eventuality. It is that campaigning for American defeat proves that those who do so had no shame to begin with.

The worst of the lot — as usual — was John Edwards. It comes, I imagine, from Mr .Edwards’ pre-political life as a trial lawyer willing to make any absurd argument in order to win.

I digress. What did the former senator say? He said, “What this global war on terror bumper sticker — political slogan, that’s all it is, it’s all it’s ever been — was intended to do was for George Bush to use it to justify everything he ever does. The ongoing war in Iraq [for which Mr. Edwards voted]; Abu Ghraib; spying on Americans; torture.”

Which proved a bit much for Hillary Clinton, who noted that September 11, 2001 had been carried out on her senatorial home ground. Yet Barack Obama bragged on opposing the war four-and-half years before Mr. Edwards.

Mrs. Clinton did make the profound point that Iraq is “George Bush’s war.” No one else that night, with the possible exception of Joe Biden, strayed far from the reservation. Not on Iraq. Not on the need to wrap it around Mr. Bush’s neck and twist hard.

We need to look carefully at the phrase “George Bush’s war.” It tells us everything we need to know about this field of candidates. Not our war — not America’s. Mr. Bush’s war. You get the implication here. When we quit the war, we’re not really quitting; we’re just cleaning up Mr. Bush’s mess. He’s the one this thing is all about — not Saddam, not the weapons of mass destruction nearly everyone believed him to have; not the “bumper-sticker war” on the homicidal maniacs who took down the Twin Towers, and whose imitators are multiplying. No, this thing is all about Mr. Bush and “lies” that no one ever has shown were lies, as opposed to truthful representations of mistaken intelligence.

This kind of rubbish can give you the willies. To each of the candidates spouting off in this manner we concede the constitutional right to seek and win the presidency. Are you thrilled yet? On Sunday night’s evidence, we can quit the war, and it will all be Mr. Bush’s fault. That’s the definition of victory their lexicon contains — blaming Mr. Bush and letting the devil take the hindmost. Whatever such a strategy might have to do with American peace and security.

Curiously, all this blather followed by only a day the news of a thwarted plot by Caribbean Islamists planning allegedly to attack John F. Kennedy International Airport — a new front, we may suppose, in that bumper-sticker war of John Edwards’ imagining.

No Americans want more of their countrymen to die in this twilight war, fought — in Matthew Arnold’s transcendent phrase — “as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight.”

Not many Americans, one hopes, will ultimately prove willing to “resolve” such a war by taking the counsel of the Democrats’ bumper-sticker war faction. But we’ll have to wait a while to find out for sure.

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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