The Magazine

Keep on Surgin'

Bush is beating them back.

Jul 23, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 42 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding the troops.

--George W. Bush, press conference, July 12, 2007


President Bush is absolutely right. But in a way his admonition to Congress at his press conference last week was unfair. He's correct that Congress can't run a war. But this Congress doesn't want to run a war. It wants to lose a war. Congress can, in principle, achieve this, and the Democrats who control this Congress are doing their best to bring it about.

In the process, congressional Democrats are also doing a good job of re-McGovernizing their party. Last week, 95 percent of Democrats in the House voted in favor of legislation requiring that the United States withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by April 1, 2008. The notion that their party is serious about any policy alternative other than getting out and giving up is becoming unsustainable. It may be, though, that calling this the re-McGovernization of that party is unfair to George McGovern--especially as his friends assembled in Washington this weekend to celebrate his 85th birthday. It is worth noting, after all, that Vietnam wasn't nearly as central to U.S. security interests as Iraq--and that McGovern had a coherent, if mistaken, world view that guided his actions in a principled way. So it would be unjust to George McGovern to call these Democrats McGovernites. We'll just call them Defeatists, who are willing to ensure a U.S. defeat for the sake of destroying the Bush administration.

The Defeatist Democrats have lots of support from the mainstream media, most of whom have simply given up on reporting the war or analyzing arguments about the war. Actually, the newsmen who know something, like John F. Burns and Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times, have produced some terrific reporting. But run-of-the-mill foreign policy and White House reporters have little interest in what is actually happening in Iraq, or in a real consideration of the likely outcomes of different policy options. They're not even reporting what's happening in Washington. They're simply committed to discrediting the war and humiliating the Bush administration.

As for the foreign policy establishment and its fellow travelers in the punditocracy, one might have thought they could be serious about this war--actually analyzing events, engaging in a grown-up debate about the real-world consequences of different courses of action, keeping calm amid the political posturing. Many in the Bush administration who care for their standing in the establishment's eyes have spent an awful lot of time cultivating these masters of nuance and complexity. All for naught. The establishment, like the media and the Democrats, wants to discredit and humiliate an administration that too often (though not often enough!) dared to think for itself, and to act without their permission. They're out to destroy Bush, his ideas, and his supporters, no matter the consequences for the country.

Over the last few weeks, all of these estimable entities--the Democratic party in Congress, much of the media, and the foreign policy establishment--have joined together to try to panic the country, and the Bush administration, into giving up. The story of the past week--an important week--is this: They failed. Many around Bush wobbled. But Bush stood firm. Most Republicans on the Hill stood firm. And, so far as one can tell, the country as a whole pulled back a bit from the irresponsibility of cutting and running.

Now, the assumption in the media, and among most in the political world, remains that the Defeatists have the momentum, that Bush is fighting a rearguard action, and that his retreat at home, and U.S. defeat abroad, are basically inevitable.

But what if this week is a harbinger of things to come? What if the Defeatists have overplayed their hand? What if they continue to sound the tocsin of defeat--and the president, and the commanders, and the soldiers, don't snap to and obey? What if the surge continues to show better and better results, and the Bush administration does a more effective job of communicating them? If so, this past week could turn out to have been a pivotal moment in the Iraq war.

Over the last few months, the United States (finally) surged in Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq has now surged against the surge. Iran is surging against the surge. We're pushing them back. Now the Democrats in Congress, the mainstream media, and the foreign policy establishment have mounted their own surges against the surge. So far, Bush is beating them back. If Bush can hang tough, and General Petraeus can keep on surging, the Defeatists will fail. And the United States will have a good chance to succeed in Iraq.


--William Kristol