Redeployment: Afghanistan is the key
Democratic efforts to unite around an Iraq withdrawal plan which cannot be attacked by Republicans as "cut-and-run" overlooks a key reality: Afghanistan is about to blow. This is a result of Bush's original failure to take the fight to the enemy that attacked us, where we had, and still have, a real coalition of international support.
Christian Parenti's recent report from Afghanistan, "Afghanistan: The Other War" (which includes an account of a fairly hairy meeting with Taliban insurgents in a mountain canyon), says:
"As the empire drifts, the Taliban grow stronger. But who are the Taliban, and why are they placing bombs, attacking foreign troops, infiltrating ever deeper into Afghanistan and provoking a crisis for the international occupation?"
The Nation's Parenti writes that Lieut. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the senior American military officer in the 'Stan, expects "the violence to get worse over the spring and summer."
The truth is that though Republicans attack proponents of Iraq withdrawal as "cowards" who want to cut-and-run (as Congresswoman Jean Schmitt referred to John Murtha after he proposed his redeployment plan) it was Bush who cut-and-ran, when he had the clear opportunity to immediately box-in bin Laden at Tora Bora with massive US ground forces, and kill him. Richard Clarke, who was named by president Bush as co-chairman of the Campaign Coordination Committee to devise a response to 9/11, urged a "rapid, no-holds-barred" retaliation in Afghanistan—including an immediate dispatch of troops to Afghanistan's borders to cut off al-Qaeda escape routes, and US forces criss-crossing the mountain regions of Pakistan, where bin Laden now hides, "breaking the crockery, if necessary." By the "crockery" Scheuer meant the Pakistani government.
Instead, Bush dilly-dallied while Al Qaeda escaped across the border by saying to the Taliban, which harbored Al Qaeda, 'You still have an opportunity to come clean with us,' according to Clarke. Thus engaging in the "naive" notion, in Bush's own words, that you can "negotiate with terrorists."
Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit and author of the vitally important "Imperial Hubris; Why the West is Losing the War on Terror", advocated a "savage, pre-planned response" to 9/11 aimed at decapitating Al Qaeda. There was no need to negotiate since, for many years, the Taliban had been warned repeatedly by the US about harboring the man who had bombed the USS Cole, and who swore to attack Americans on American soil. The Taliban was told repeatedly that they would be held personally responsible for any attack.
Clarke calls Bush's idea that he could negotiate with the Taliban to give up bin Laden "silly."
As long as Americans are allowed to keep Iraq as the "visual center" of the war on terror, to coin a term, the Republicans will succeed in portraying any alternative plan as "cut-and-run." This is why Dick Cheney is at such pains to continue to equate the two things, the war in Iraq, and the war on terror. It is also why the administration unveiled its brilliant strategem of declassifying thousands of documents pertaining to the possible connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. It's perfectly obvious: this keeps amateurs with no training and no context playing the game of he-said, she-said right through the 2006 elections. Never mind that there is no he-said, she-said. The 9/11 Commission Report, and the administration itself, have said there was no connection between Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. It's called muddying the waters.
The Democratic redeployment plan must say it like it is: we need those troops out of Iraq, because we're going to need them in Afghanistan, the TRUE CENTER OF THE WAR ON TERROR, where Bush badly bungled. This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, and Afghanistan is where we retain any semblance of moral authority, since, by the broad agreement forged as the Twin Towers smoldered, this is where the people who attacked us lived.
Iraq can be stabilized and removed from the American consciousness as the center of the war on terror by acknowledging that it is really three separate states: Shiastan, Sunnistan, and Kurdistan; by continuing to quote in campaign ads the credible heavy-hitters who say, like Nixon's Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird: "Our presence is what feeds the insurgency;" or, like Brent Scowcroft: "This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism;" and by diplomacy which engages the regional powers to balance and deter the ambitions unleashed by the power vacuum following the removal of Saddam Hussein.
A blogger on Democratic challenger and veteran Andrew Duck's website notes in a thought-provoking comment:
"Eventually, you might even see some interesting defense alliances occur in the American absence: say Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and even Sunnistan all being on the same side, to check Iran, Shiastan, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon on the other."
What definitely WILL NOT win the 2006 elections for Democrats is more talk of securing ports and chemical plants, without attacking the central premise of Bush's war, relentlessly and on-message every day, from now until election day. Bush will always get the ultimate credit for pulling the Big Trigger, until the American people see that he hit the elderly lawyer, and not the quail.