Is There A Valid Middle-Ground Position on Iraq?

March 15, 2007

David Brooks (TimesSelect link) seems to think not.

One serious position is heard on the left: that there’s nothing more we can effectively do in Iraq. We’ve spent four years there and have not been able to quell the violence. If the place is headed for civil war, there’s nothing we can do to stop it, and we certainly don’t want to get caught in the middle. The only reasonable option is to get out now before more Americans die.

The second serious option is heard on the right. We have to do everything we can to head off catastrophe, and it’s too soon to give up hope. The surge is already producing some results. Bombing deaths are down by at least a third. Execution-style slayings have been cut in half. An oil agreement has been reached, tribes in Anbar Province are chasing Al Qaeda, cross-sectarian political blocs are emerging. We should perhaps build on the promise of the surge with regional diplomacy or a soft partition, but we certainly should not set timetables for withdrawal.

The Democratic leaders don’t want to be for immediate withdrawal because it might alienate the centrists, and they don’t want to see out the surge because that would alienate the base. What they want to do is be against Bush without accepting responsibility for any real policy, so they have concocted a vaporous policy of distant withdrawal that is divorced from realities on the ground.

This all may be true. The problem with this analysis is that it assumes that politicians should always seek to enact policies that perfectly conform to their principles. However, in the real world, you try to get the best that you can given the political reality.

Even if you are one of these people who thinks immediate withdrawal is the best course, you may recognize that you don’t have the votes to accomplish that right now. It’s still much better to have a phased withdrawal than to have an open-ended commitment, right? So you can still push for that and make some improvement in the world. You also don’t want to take a position that can lead to your political marginalization and sap your effectiveness going forward. If this isn’t handled carefully, congressional missteps could easily lead to more White House demagoguing along the lines of “slow bleed” that gives the war additional PR support and prolongs things unnecessarily.

I generally agree with the point of view that the Democrats have not been aggressive enough in trying to end the war, and I think the previous paragraph I wrote is largely a cop-out. It’s at least a semi-legitimate argument, though, along the lines of what I think the proponents of the congressional Dems’ plan would say, and it should’ve been acknowledged by Brooks.

As I said, the Brooks passage above is, I think, largely true. Does anyone really believe the middle-ground position is the correct way to go, and not merely an attempt to make a compromise?