"What Korea was to Truman, and Vietnam was to LBJ, Iraq will be to George W. Bush," Arthur Schlesinger told me last week. In all three cases, the public grew weary of a drawn-out war with no end in sight. History shows that there is nothing sacrosanct about wartime presidents. There is no guaranteed immunity for them. Rallying 'round the president when the nation is at war is the American tradition -- but only for a time. The Korean War forced Truman to pull out of the 1952 race. Vietnam forced Johnson to pull out in 1968.
Bush was able to keep Iraq at bay long enough to get reelected, but the debacle threatens to derail his second term. Just look at the latest polls. According to Washington Post/ABC News, for the first time a majority of Americans feel that the war has not made the U.S. safer. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of Bush's handling of it. Fifty-eight percent say the war was not worth fighting. And 73 percent consider the number of casualties unacceptable.
But poll numbers are not the only figures the White House should be worrying about. Dick Cheney's "last throes" delusion is being rebutted by the figures coming out of Iraq every day. May was the fifth-deadliest month of the war for U.S. troops. And in just the first two weeks of June, 41 Americans have been killed and 75 wounded.
This is clearly not a war that is waning or winnable. Yet the Bush administration continues to refuse even to consider the idea of developing an exit strategy. And don't tell me it's when Iraqi troops are ready to take over the fight; at the rate they're going, Ahmed Chalabi's great-grandchildren will be leading the first all-Iraqi push against the insurgents.
As LBJ did with Vietnam, Bush appears to be losing touch both with reality and with the sentiments of a growing majority of Americans. But, unlike Johnson, he seems strangely unaffected by the disconnect. Perhaps that's because he's so convinced that God put him there. God, after all, saved Bush from drinking and drugs so he could spread democracy in Iraq. But a combination of hubris and incompetence -- always a dangerous cocktail -- could well be his undoing. Unlike Truman and Johnson, he doesn't have any more elections to lose -- but his party does.
If only the Democrats would find their voice on the subject as 2006 approaches.
With memos pouring out of the U.K. showing there was no planning for what to do after Baghdad fell and that "intelligence and facts were being fixed," and with the number of dead American soldiers now exceeding 1,700, what is the Democratic leadership waiting for before they finally stand up to the White House? Where are Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Howard Dean on a moral issue of this magnitude, on which the majority of Americans oppose the administration?
This is definitely not your father's antiwar movement.
Unlike Vietnam, opposition to the war in Iraq is not being driven by the "make love, not war" crowd. A growing number of voices are being raised -- and asking whether the ongoing disaster in Iraq is draining precious resources from the war on terror (remember that?) and efforts to secure the homeland. So this is not war vs. peace; it's war vs. security.
While Democrats are crisscrossing the country, holding conclaves in search of what the party should stand for, Russ Feingold introduced a resolution in the Senate last week calling on the president to create a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq. Thank God at least one prominent Dem has the good sense to know what the party should stand for -- and, just as important, the cojones to act on that knowledge.
As for the House, the leadership against the war in Iraq is now in the hands of Mr. "Freedom Fries" himself, Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. After being a staunch supporter of the war -- "There is no question," he said in November 2002, "that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the security of not only our nation, but of every nation across the globe" -- Jones now believes we went to war "with no justification." He even voted for the Woolsey Amendment, which calls on President Bush to develop an exit strategy as soon as possible. So he voted yes while 79 Democrats -- including Nancy Pelosi -- voted no.
On Meet the Press, Sen. Joe Biden recently said that a military draft "is going to become a subject if in fact there is a 40 percent shortfall in recruitment. It's just a reality." But the best thing for the health of our Army would be to institute a draft for an opposition party. Right now, it seems, there aren't enough willing to serve voluntarily.