The past week has been notable for three things: the long-expected and much-anticipated report to Congress by Gen David Petraeus on the situation in Iraq; President Bush's endorsement of Gen Petraeus's report; and the predictable and disappointing reaction of everyone to the first two.
Those who oppose the war decided long before Gen Petraeus ever left Baghdad with his briefing charts that he wasn't to be believed. MoveOn.org had gone so far as to run a full-page ad in the New York Times featuring an ad hominem attack based on Gen Petraeus's name. Members of Congress had gone on record either supporting or rejecting the General's comments before he ever made them. And, predictably, President Bush's address to the nation last night was received along party lines...either a masterful and statesmanlike approach to a difficult situation (the Republican view) or a craven use of a browbeaten general as political cover to continue a bankrupt course of action (the Democratic view).
Both sides are full of ... well ... stuff.
Regardless of how one feels about the war (and my position on it should be no surprise to any of you by now), one has to be depressed at the simplistic, knee-jerk reactions. Gen Petraeus is a man with the worst job in the world, stuck with having to win (or, at least, not lose) an unpopular war while being castigated by war opponents as a political hack of the President and shamelessly used by war supporters as a shield to deflect negativity from the administration.
The war in Iraq, begun in error, waged on the cheap, and spinning off ugly consequences every day, has been a disaster that wrecked Iraq, tarnished America's reputation around the world, and has led to an unprecedented attack on the Constitution by an administration anxious to save something from the wreckage. But that said, we're rather stuck. We've punched the tar baby, and now we have to deal with the consequences. I support withdrawing from Iraq, but I know that a precipitous withdrawal would be both irresponsible and immoral. The Iraqis will never try to reconcile themselves and rebuild their nation as long as the United States is available as a convenient whipping boy on which to blame their own failure to seize the opportunity presented by our sacrifices. We need to hold our noses and develop a rational plan that gradually extricates us from a bad situation while recognizing our responsibility for creating it in the first place.
Instead of running full-page ads in newspapers to insult Gen Petraeus, why not spend the money and the intellectual capital to come up with suggestions for a realistic and responsible course of action? Instead of shouting down the General while he tries to testify, why not present a calm, rational position based on a clear-headed analysis of the situation? Why not agree to stop the stupid and simplistic bumper-sticker approach to smearing one's opponents: Republicans characterizing Democrats as "intent on surrender," and Democrats castigating Republicans as cynically trading lives for oil, why not work together to develop a responsible policy?
As fantasies go, I guess this one is as safe as any. And as unlikely to be realized.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.