June 1, 2006  

A Turning Point?

Reporting back in the Rose Garden after his zip-trip to Baghdad, after "looking" Iraqi leader Nouri al Maliki "in the eye," President Bush yesterday said that many Iraqi feared "America will lose its nerve." He warned Democrats that a precipitate withdrawal would be viewed as fulfilling that fear.

It will be a temptation to inside-the-Beltway types to dismiss this rhetoric as a matter of domestic politics – and so it is. But with the Congress beginning a two-day debate on Iraq policy and with a wartime mid-term election looming in the fall, it is domestic politics with the grandest of strategic implications.

The center of gravity in the Iraq war and indeed the Long War in the greater Middle East is, without question, the political will of the American people. This will still be true after George W. Bush leaves the White House, for the war will continue. Clearly, the Iraqis understand this, and particularly those Iraqis who are fighting to build a better future, those Iraqis who are also our best allies. In time, the Iraqis can win their war; for the moment, only the United States can lose it.

Whatever the narrow, partisan calculus, President Bush is doing the right thing by trying to focus the American political debate on Iraq. In a time of war, running away from this central issue would be dereliction of duty. It’s pretty clear that Bush is in no danger of losing his personal nerve, but whether he can inspire the rest of the country, including a larger percentage of the opposition party, with a similar resolve is the question.