Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Democrats latest tactic - be an ostrich

OK, so it's a myth that ostrich's bury their heads in the sand, but it makes for a good analogy.

The Democrats this week are looking to cut off funding for the war if Bush doesn't pull the troops out of Iraq by 2008. This seems to me to be an ostrich strategy, and comes from the following faulty reasoning: the war was a mistake, therefore we must undo it by pulling our troops out. Uh-huh. And if you close your eyes and click your heels 3 times, the situation will magically resolve itself.

(Before I get too harsh on the Democrats here, it bears pointing out that Bush's approach in Iraq is not exactly realistic either. Plan B in Iraq seems to be to try to make Plan A work, long after Plan A has shown itself to be a complete failure. Of course, picking on Bush is easy, so back to picking on Democrats, which, oh what the heck, it's just as easy...)

One can have reasonable debates about whether the war was a mistake. And regardless of where you fall on the question of whether starting this war was or was not a mistake, pretty much all reasonable person (i.e., anyone NOT in this White House) agrees that the execution of the war after the first few weeks has been pretty disastrous.

But nevertheless, here we are. And here's the problem: you can't put humpty dumpty back together again. I'll give Bush credit on one thing here: a timetable is a mistake. The mess we're in means that we can't leave a bigger mess behind. We need to leave behind something that won't be a breeding ground for terrorists, and that won't further erode what little credibility we have left in foreign policy. (And I frankly wish that Bush would spend his energy recognizing that this problem, not a military problem, is what we face.) We need to be establishing security yes, but we need to establish confidence building measures and not wait for the Iraqis to stand up but force them to stand up. As this happens, yes, we should withdraw, but absolute anarchy would result if we do so in the wrong way.

To the degree that our presence in Iraq is part of the problem, it may actually make sense to pull troops back early; I say "hooray" if this is the case. But it still makes my point above that the key metric is increasing stability, not numbers of soldiers coming home.

So I come back to the Democrat's tactic to try to force Bush's hand. It's stupid because it ignores reality, and it's stupid because it's about politics, not about doing the right thing.

In the spirit of not merely criticizing, I think there is a far more constructive way that the Democrats could exert pressure on Bush to do the right thing and (hopefully) still get the troops home sooner (and probably score political points as well). They should let Bush have all the funding he thinks he needs for Iraq. Yep, every last penny. But here's the catch: they should allocate zero new dollars out of the budget to pay for it. So for every dollar that he wants to spend on Iraq, he should have to cut it from somewhere else, or raise taxes (or cut his tax cuts) to pay for it. Bush currently faces no pressure on this front because everyone wants to support the troops. But if he has to actually make sacrifices/tradeoffs with his other priorities, I think his focus on the need to solve Iraq may increase a bit. At the very least, it would make explicit the sorts of tradeoffs that we are making implicitly today.
Here's my idea: give bush all the $ he wants, but make him pay for it out of his tax cuts or spending cuts elsewhere. I.e., if you think the strategy sucks, make it hurt to continue it.

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