The argument in the Capitol last week was about victory. Legislators such as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham believe, against all the evidence, that victory in Iraq is possible. They insist like puppets that "the surge has been a success" and see signs of victory. The president proclaims that we are winning the war. Gen. David Petraeus says that the progress is fragile and reversible, that there is not yet light at the end of the tunnel, victory is not right around the corner and the champagne is still at the back of the refrigerator.
We know that many in the Pentagon think victory in Iraq is impossible. Navy Adm. William Fallon was dumped because he agreed with them and disagreed with Petraeus. He argued that the military is traumatized by the duration of the war and the constant increase in tours of duty. Fallon was, some of the neocons say, guilty of insubordination. If you tell the civilian leaders that this war cannot be won and that military is stretched to its limit, you're insubordinate. The president knows better.
There was a temporary decline in violence because Petraeus bought out the Sunni tribes, and Moqtada al-Sadr, for reasons of his own, called a truce -- perhaps at the instigation of his Iraqi allies. But violence was in full swing again while the congressional testimony raged on. About 1,500 members of the Iraqi Army deserted in the middle of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attack on the Shites in southern Iraq. Yet the neocon twins who thought this war up, Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol, smilingly proclaim that we're on the road to victory.
Petraeus thinks victory will be an Iraq relatively free of violence. The president seems to think victory means that Iraq becomes a free and independent democratic state. The latter will certainly not happen, not in nine months. But his real goal is to keep the war going until his term is over. Then he can accuse the Democrats of "losing Iraq." This recalls the Republican strategy of the early 1950s, when the Democrats were accused by the same kind of jingoistic hyper-patriots of losing China. No one seemed to ask whether China was ours to lose.
Could the war have been won? The question assumes that he went to war with clear goals -- and clear means of winning it. Perhaps with the 300,000 troops that Gen. Eric Shinseki had requested, a sophisticated occupation policy and shrewd administrators to sustain the initial victory, the war could have ended four years ago. However, as is evident, most Iraqis don't want to be occupied by Americans. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thought that "shock and awe" would do the trick with less than half that number. The conceit that an extra couple of brigades would end violence and force the Iraqi government to get its act together was of the same order of fatuous folly.
Thus President Bush and those around him can go to their graves convinced that they were on the edge of victory, but the Democrats stole it away from them.
Some Democrats assure me that no matter who wins the primary, Democrats will win the election because of the war.
Don't two-thirds of the American public think the war was a mistake in the first place? Can McCain win an election during a sharp recession and an ongoing war?
So the primary is really irrelevant.
Only if you believe Clinton's fictionalized autobiography, in which she helped negotiate the peace in Northern Ireland, came under sniper fire in Bosnia and always opposed NAFTA -- and thus can be trusted to tell the truth.