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Democrats Look Weak Calling for Iraq ‘Exit’

It’s hard to see how the Democratic Party gains on the Republicans when, one after the other, its leaders call for exiting Iraq rather than winning the conflict. [IMGCAP(1)]

The insistent Democratic demand for an “exit strategy” is particularly ill-timed in view of last Sunday’s dramatic demonstration of the Iraq people’s willingness to risk death for freedom.

Terrorists warned in leaflets that they would “wash the streets in blood” of those who tried to vote. Some 8 million did, many waving fingers marked with indelible ink in an act of defiance against those who would kill or oppress them.

After the voting, all of Iraq’s highest-ranking interim leaders — the president, prime minister, defense minister and army commander — declared it would be “complete nonsense” and “very dangerous” for U.S. forces to leave Iraq in the foreseeable future, because it would leave “chaos” behind.

And yet, the Democratic Party’s most visible leaders — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), 2004 presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) — all are emphasizing withdrawal of U.S. forces, instead of staying until democracy and security are stable.

It’s little wonder that on national security issues, American voters consistently trust Republicans over Democrats. In the latest poll by Democracy Corps, run by Democrats, the GOP enjoys a 25-point lead over Democrats on the measure “protecting America against any threat” and a 27-point edge on “strength.”

It’s a longstanding Democratic Party problem, dating back to the aftermath of Vietnam and persisting through to the 2004 election: Democrats look weak in the face of enemies, whether it’s the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein or Islamic terrorists.

Historically, the two parties have earned their reputations: Ronald Reagan took on the “evil empire” as Democrats favored a nuclear freeze. President Bush’s father waged war to oust Hussein from Kuwait, over Democratic opposition. Bush favors unilateral “pre-emption” against potential terrorists, while Democrats want an “imminent threat” and multinational support before acting.

And now, in the wake of a presidential defeat that was heavily due to a lack of voter trust on security issues, the party is about to select the single most vociferous dove among its 2004 presidential candidates, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, as party chairman.

Prior to last Sunday’s voting, a Fox News poll showed that the U.S. public was split on whether U.S. forces should start coming home immediately or should stay until Iraq was stabilized.

Since the overwhelming demonstration of Iraqi determination, those numbers surely will shift. President Bush, despite rumors to the contrary, seems determined to stay and produce a stable Iraq. The elections surely were a victory for his policies.

Democrats could hardly disparage the Iraqis’ show of courage, but their leaders’ statements certainly weren’t as full of joy as their condemnations of Bush would have been had the elections turned into a fiasco.

Democrats’ tributes to the Iraqis had a distinctly “yes, but” flavor, as in Reid’s statement that “millions of Iraqi citizens risked bloodshed in order to raise their ink-stained fingers in a powerful symbol of democracy. But we all know that these brave men and women will never be truly free until they can walk through their cities without fear.”

Reid called on Bush to “spell out a real and understandable plan for the unfinished work ahead.” He included in the work “defeat the growing insurgency,” but “most of all, we need an exit strategy and how we can get there.”

The election, he said, “was the first step in helping figure out a way that the United States can get out of Iraq. I truly believe that the problem in Iraq is our policies. It’s our presence that’s also a problem. We’re an occupying force … and we have to figure out a way to remove ourselves with dignity.”

At least Reid cares about “dignity” and trying to defeat the insurgency. Kennedy, in a well-publicized speech prior to the election, basically declared that all is lost and called for U.S. forces to start leaving right away.

Kerry, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” didn’t endorse an immediate pullout, but he repeated what’s become Democratic logic: The main problem in Iraq is not the brutal insurgency, it’s the presence of U.S. forces.

Kennedy, reiterating his refrain that Iraq is “Bush’s Vietnam” — a “quagmire,” a “black hole,” a “shame and stain on America’s good name” — said that “we must recognize what a large and growing number of Iraqis now believe. The war in Iraq has become a war against the American occupation.”

Kennedy went so far as to say that “our military and the insurgents are fighting for the same thing — the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.” And, he strongly implied, the insurgents are winning.

It’s shocking that a distinguished Senator could imply a moral equivalency between U.S. forces working for democracy and hideous killers trying to destroy it. Kennedy does not speak for the Democratic Party, but neither is anyone repudiating him.

Kerry, on “Meet the Press” last Sunday, said he didn’t agree with Kennedy’s call for immediate withdrawal of 12,000 U.S. troops or the setting of a timetable for full withdrawal.

But Kerry, characteristically trying to have it both ways, added, “I understand what Sen. Kennedy is saying and I agree with Sen. Kennedy’s perceptions of the problem. … I agree with Sen. Kennedy that we have become the target and part of the problem today, if not the problem.

“I wouldn’t do a specific timetable, but I certainly agree with him that the goal must be to withdraw American troops.”

No, the goal should not be to withdraw American troops. The goal should be to produce a stable democracy in Iraq that can defend itself and then to withdraw on a timetable agreed to with the Iraqis.

Bush insists that this is his goal, though Kerry implied chicanery. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration privately, behind closed doors, asked them to ask us to leave.”

This suggests what Kerry would be doing if he were president: arranging a withdrawal whether it was militarily advisable or not. It’s not precisely the reason a majority of voters chose Bush over him, but it’s part of the reason. Voters smell weakness in Democrats. It’s no accident. It’s there.

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