Can This Washington Be Saved? Can This War?
After the veto.


On Tuesday night, President Bush vetoed the supplemental war-funding bill. National Review Online asked a group of experts, who include a former senator, a former Cabinet secretary, an Iraq-war vet, a relative of an American murdered on September 11, 2001, a historian, and policy experts: How big a deal was the president’s veto Tuesday night? Can this Washington be saved? Can this war?

William J. Bennett
The question now is what comes next. The veto will be sustained, but what’s the next bill going to look like? I’m telling you right now if Republicans cave, there’s going to be a problem. And problems are on the horizon. Here’s what George Voinovich, Republican senator of Ohio, said yesterday: “Some kind of compromise has to be worked out between the administration and the Democrats. That’s how it’s done. Everybody holds their nose and maybe a couple of times vomits, but you get it done.”

No, that is not how it’s done. That’s how it was done in Vietnam. But we’re going to say “Hell No” to doing that again. President Bush is not Richard Nixon or Jerry Ford. Ted Kennedy is not in charge. We learned our lessons from Vietnam I thought: We will not collude in a bloodbath, a defeat, and our enemies’ dancing in the streets–not when our military wants to fight, is fighting, and is making a difference.

I know what the polling says. You don’t poll a war. But if you want a poll, here’s the one I’d write and we’ll see what response it gets: “Do you support pulling troops from Iraq if you know a bloodbath will follow and al Qaeda will declare victory?” Poll that question please. It’s the most accurate prognostication you can get.

Let me just remind: David Petraeus is making a difference, the new plan is making a difference, it’s only half as powerful as it will be, more troops are on the way, and it’s only two months old. Don’t quit the fight now. That is a surrender.

– William J. Bennett is host of Morning in America and author of America: The Last Best Hope, Volume 2: From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom.

Peter Brookes

The president’s veto was an important blow to the jihadists, and the likes of Iran and Syria, hoping that we’d just put our tails between our legs and go home. This war is winnable. Indeed, the quickest and surest way to lose a war is to stop fighting.

But President Bush, fortunately, realizes that there is a lot more on the line in Iraq than the war. Our credibility, our resolve — for friend and foe alike — are at stake.

And Washington will be fine. A little rough and tumble, sharp-elbow politics is good every once in awhile to keep the blood coursing through our political veins. Democracies are resilient and this great democracy of ours is no different.

Peter Brookes is senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States, just out in paperback.

Debra Burlingame
Can this war be saved? Yes, but Republicans in Congress have to step up. Confident of Bush’s veto, they did not fight the supplemental bill hard enough, letting the Democrats’ repeated claim that the American people “support them” go unanswered.

Americans have a great deal of faith in our military. What they are not so sure about is the Iraqi people. According to a poll conducted last September, a strong majority of Iraqis support the Maliki government and trust the Iraqi security forces. When asked about their support for al Qaeda, an overwhelming majority of Shia (98 percent) and a large majority of Sunni (71 percent) firmly rejected al Qaeda and Osama bin Ladin. Increasingly, Iraqis know that foreign fighters are responsible for most of the bloodshed in their country, including attacks intended to provoke sectarian violence.

This is a p.r. war, both here and there. Americans need to be reassured that the Iraqis strongly support the U.S. mission of standing up the Iraqi army. General Petraeus called the unprecedented number of volunteers who are showing up for training a “stunning development.” Equally significant is the huge increase in intelligence from Iraqi civilians about insurgents and their activities. Americans will give the surge time, and accept casualties, if they know the Iraqis are not sitting out the fight.

– Debra Burlingame is sister of Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11/01.

Victor Davis Hanson
The veto gave Gen. Petraeus a window of six months to stabilize Baghdad. Ultimately only positive news from the battlefield in Baghdad can stop the Democrats who have collectively decided that the war they authorized is now not worth the aggregate cost in blood and treasure.

So we are in a psychological state akin to circa July 1864 or spring 1951, in which only good news from the war can stop the blame-game and serial expressions of defeatism. What Petraeus is trying to do is to provide enough security and confidence in the future so that the Sunnis will reject al Qaeda, the Shiites will marginalize Sadr, and the general populace can trust in its government.

The more Democrats will not quite cut off funds before the verdict is in on the surge, the more vehement will be their public defeatist rhetoric as compensation. And they probably shrug that if things quiet down by autumn, they can say their pressure removed Rumsfeld, changed military leadership, increased troop levels, and forced Bush to see the light; and if the surge fails, they can say “well, they had their surge, and now it is time to leave.” So expect the final showdown not to arrive until autumn when the election cycle commences in earnest.

The unspoken danger is that if, after all this hate-filled rhetoric, the Democrats win the White House, al Qaeda won’t go away. The jihadists will probably be emboldened by a withdrawal from Iraq, and thus Democrats will have to continue the struggle in other theaters, appealing to bipartisan support and patience. In other words, once in power Democrats won’t want the continuance of the very defeatist and over-the-top political culture they themselves fostered the last four years.

– Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Clifford D. May

President Bush had no choice but to veto a bill that would have undermined an American commander on the battlefield, a bill that would have legislated a consequential American defeat.

The hope now is that more moderate voices in the Democratic party will prevail, and that Bush will get a new bill, one that provides Gen. David Petraeus and his troops with the resources they need — if not the bipartisan support they would like — to carry out their arduous and vital mission.

Bush said on Tuesday that “it will be at least the end of summer before we can assess the impact of this operation.” That really means Petraeus has four months to make — and demonstrate — progress in a clash of arms, while Bush must simultaneously make headway in a clash of narratives.

Bush must convince Americans that the bloodshed in Iraq is not — as the far Left insists — a justified response to America’s “occupation.” Nor are we primarily intervening in a civil war, a domestic dispute that should not concern us, as other critics of the war contend.

Rather, Americans are fighting al Qaeda’s most lethal branch and thwarting the imperialist ambitions of Tehran. And we are giving decent Iraqis — the majority of Iraqis — a last chance to learn to rule themselves and defend themselves.

Bush also must communicate how costly would be an American defeat in Iraq. Years ago, we retreated from Vietnam; though millions of Asians suffered and died, Americans were able to get on with their lives and even eventually prevail in the Cold War.

Should we lose the Battle of Baghdad, we are not likely to get off so easily.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Mackubin Thomas Owens
I believe the chances for success in Iraq are greater than in D.C. The problem is, as I have argued before, today’s Copperheads in Congress would rather see Bush lose than the country win in Iraq.

The president provided a very forceful rationale for his veto. His best point was that the Democrats would substitute their own judgment for that of commanders on the ground. Ironically, the current New Republic illustrates why this is a bad idea. Lawrence Kaplan’s piece demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that when it comes to Iraq, the Democratic congressional leaders don’t have a clue. The examples Kaplan cites go far beyond the usual “gaffes.” They indicate willful ignorance.

I believe the surge is working. No matter what Harry “the Copperhead” Reid may claim, the surge does represent a change in operational approach in Iraq. His fatuous claim that even Gen. Petraeus agrees there is no “military solution” in Iraq is a canard. Military success–in the case of Iraq, providing security for the population–may not be a sufficient cause of ultimate success, but it is a necessary cause. The increasing number of “red-on-red” battles between the Sunni tribes of al-Anbar and al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) are partially a consequence of the surge. The Abazaid-Casey approach was flawed because it stressed training the Iraqis at the expense of providing this security.

I remain cautiously optimistic about Iraq, as long as the Copperheads are prevented (as in the president’s veto) from obstructing the war effort. But the only hope for D.C. to be saved (in the long run) is for the American people to recognize the Copperheads in Congress for the disgraceful opportunists they are.

— Mackubin Thomas Owens is an associate dean of academics and a professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He is writing a history of U.S. civil-military relations.