Ending the war in Iraq is right for a lot of reasons. The war was unjustified, unnecessary and unprovoked. It is counterproductive, strengthening al-Qaeda and weakening the moral authority of the United States. It is deadly: Many Americans, and many, many more Iraqis, have been killed or injured as a result of the fighting. And it is costly: Well over $250 billion in taxpayer funds have already been spent, with no end in sight.
It is also increasingly unpopular. For all these reasons, plus the increased spotlight that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita put on how much the war is draining resources desperately needed at home, Democrats should clearly call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. If Democrats do not make this the centerpiece of their campaign in 2006, they risk repeating recent history, in which they failed to recover seats in the House and Senate.
National Democratic leaders have already tried, and tried again, to ignore the war, and it didn’t work politically. During the 2002 election cycle, when Democrats felt they had historical precedent on their side – the president’s party always loses seats in the mid-term election – the Democratic leadership in Congress cut a deal with the president to bring the war resolution to a vote, and appeared with him in a Rose Garden ceremony. “Let no light show” between Democrats and President Bush on foreign policy was the leadership’s strategy, and it yielded a historic result: For the first time since Franklin Roosevelt, a president increased his majorities in both houses of Congress during a recession.
Then, in 2004, with the president vulnerable on the war, the Democratic Party again sacrificed the opportunity to distinguish itself from Bush. Members avoided the issue of withdrawal from Iraq in the Party platform, omitted it from campaign speeches and deleted it from the national convention.
Why is it an unconscionable political blunder to sweep the war and occupation of Iraq under the rug? Because the war is one of the most potent political scandals of all time, and it has energized grassroots activity all over the country.
President Bush led the country into war based on false information, falsified threats and a fictitious estimate of the consequences. His war and the continuing occupation transformed Iraq into a training ground for jihadists who want to kill Americans, and a cause célèbre for stoking resentment in the Muslim world.
Bush’s war and occupation squandered the abundant good will felt by the world for America after our 9⁄11 losses. He enriched his cronies at Halliburton and other private interests through the occupation. And he diverted our attention and abilities away from apprehending the masterminds of the 9⁄11 attack. Instead, we are mired in an occupation which has already cost over 2,000 American lives and the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The issue of the war clearly distinguishes what is wrong with Republican rule. Republicans in Congress won’t extricate the United States from the quagmire the president has gotten us into. They have refused to investigate what role the White House played in manipulating pre-war intelligence. They refused to investigate the Downing Street memo. Democrats, on the other hand, mostly voted against the war: Two-thirds of House Democrats and half of Senate Democrats opposed the war in Iraq. Democrats can draw no clearer distinction with the president and the Republican Congress than over this war.
Every major poll confirms that the war is a loser for the president and his party. Consider one of the most prominent: The ABC/Washington Post poll, which has surveyed public opinion on the war regularly since March 2003. Responses to all pertinent key questions clearly show eroding support for the war. Support for the president’s handling of Iraq has steadily fallen; belief that the war was worth fighting has fallen; belief that the number of U.S. casualties are an acceptable cost of the war has steadily fallen; belief that the war has contributed to U.S. long-term security has steadily fallen, and support for keeping forces in Iraq has steadily fallen. There are no exceptions to this trend.
Right is on our side, and public opinion is trending our way. In 2006, Democrats must break from the past and run on the issue of quick withdrawal of all troops from Iraq. The stakes are high: Unless Democrats stand for ending the war in Iraq, this country will not leave Iraq, and Democrats their minority status in Washington, for a long time to come.
Of course, no party can win votes on the strength of one issue. Ending the war in Iraq must be at the centerpiece of a campaign that includes standing for national health care and preserving Social Security. This is the constellation of issues with which Democrats can take back the country.