Politics & Policy

Flailing Leader

It’s dangerous to be in the middle of a civil war with dueling and embittered factions. Just ask Senate majority leader Harry Reid — who, in the midst of a deeply divided Democratic party, is flailing over a political strategy on Iraq. It seems that Reid went to war with the White House over the supplemental Iraq-spending bill without an exit plan.

He now faces a presidential veto of a bill that requires U.S. troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq in October of this year. Reid will be forced to retreat, and his Democratic Congress to deliver the $124 billion — without the arbitrary surrender date — to fund a war he has declared “lost.” If he had an ounce of the courage of the selfless troops he has undermined with this declaration, he would try to rally his forces to cut off funding for the war. But his political mission is to appease his party’s angry antiwar Left while ducking responsibility for a preemptive surrender.

A few months ago, Reid joined a unanimous Senate in voting to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as the new commander in Iraq, charged with a new mission and strategy. Although all the forces to conduct the new security operations won’t be in place until mid-June, General Petraeus reports early signs of progress on the ground. What does the Democrats’ armchair general make of the veteran commander’s assessment? “I don’t believe him,” Reid said on CNN, the latest in a series of gaffes. Unfortunately for Democrats, you go to war with the political commander you have.

In a dispute between Petraeus and Reid over military strategy and the state of the war, we know whose judgment we trust. When Reid is arguing that there is no purely military solution in Iraq, he loves to cite Petraeus. But Petraeus also — and repeatedly — says that improved security is a precondition of political progress. Appearing before the Senate in January, Petraeus said, “Military action to improve security, while not wholly sufficient to solve Iraq’s problems, is certainly necessary.” Reid is resolved — at least he’s resolute about something — to ignore this.

Instead, he apparently uses a car-bomb barometer to measure the success of the troop surge, and has hoisted the white flag in response to the recent spate of such deadly attacks. Our enemies thus get exactly the response they seek. They want their cowardly tactics to blind Washington policymakers to the demonstrably improved security conditions in Baghdad that recent congressional visitors (and not just John McCain) have witnessed. Victory is far from certain — but defeat is, if Reid prevails.

Although the ongoing violence in Iraq has convinced Reid to abandon our mission, our allies, and the Iraqi people, he dishonestly refuses to take any responsibility for the disastrous consequences of withdrawal. He ridiculously insists that the violence will subside if the most dominant security force in Iraq leaves the battlefield to al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents, and Shiite militias. (The notion that the U.S. can fight al Qaeda in Iraq from a distance is pure fantasy.)

There is one victory Senator Reid does see on the horizon: “We’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war,” he told the Associated Press. American troops and their new commander are giving their all to defeat the enemy, while the Democratic majority leader wages a destructive campaign against his political enemies at their expense. The “’em” in “give ’em hell” was never supposed to be American soldiers.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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