The Magazine

The Stab That Failed

The congressional Democrats' surge-against-the-surge -- a case study in political futility.

Dec 3, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 12 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Eagerly anticipating the defeat in Iraq to which they are so much attached, some on the left have also been preparing for another contingency: the assault that they think they see coming, a drive to pin the whole wretched failure on them. Apparently, this will be "stab in the back" redux, a new iteration of the theme deployed so successfully in interwar Germany by a resourceful, ambitious Austrian corporal, who managed to propel his rise to power with the claim that World War I would have been won by his country, if not for sinister forces at home. Then, it was subversion by Jews and other disloyal elements. This time, in the left's imagining, the blame will fall on the press and the Democrats who, by pulling the plug at just the wrong moment, caused the loss of Iraq. "Nobody I know in a rational condition believes that the United States is going to have any kind of a military victory," Mark Shields said in August. "So the idea is going to be, 'We were on the cusp of victory and the rug was pulled out from under us by these willy-nilly, weak-kneed, nervous Nellies back home.' "

The problem with this is (1) that we may really win, and have no failure to blame upon anyone, and (2) that the nervous Nellies really did try to keep us from winning, indeed fought fang and claw to derail our best efforts. If they had had their way, Iraq would still be the quagmire they are so fond of invoking, and the United States--or George W. Bush, which may be the more relevant factor--would have incurred a definitive and, at least in his case, legacy-blasting defeat. It is unfair of course to call this a stab in the back, as the Democrats have been engagingly open about their intentions. In the course of the past year, they have gone from attacking a plan that had not been effective to attacking one that hadn't been tried yet, to attacking one that exceeded all expectations, while in the process ignoring reality, slandering a commanding general, and denying American forces in battle due credit for what they had done. If not backstabbing as such (see above), it is diverting enough a spectacle to merit a replay. Let us look back at this last year of battle and see how the story played out.

When our tale opens, it is the last month of 2006, Democrats have just scored a blowout in Congress, Iraq is in shambles, and the country is calling for Bush to change course. He does. But he changes course in the other direction, radically revising his Iraq strategy, adopting aggressive new rules of engagement, and sending in 30,000 more troops. Even before the plan was announced to the public on January 10, 2007, Democrats launched their assault. Senator Christopher Dodd declared the plan useless: "A 'surge' of American troops will do nothing." Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrats in the new Congress, released an open letter to Bush on January 5, decrying his redoubled effort as futile: "Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried, and that has already failed." The surge was "a sad, ominous echo of something we've lived through in this country," according to Illinois senator Richard Durbin. "I'm confident it will not work," said John Kerry at a Senate hearing, a sentiment echoed by Barack Obama. "Verdict first, trial afterwards," said the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, unaware of her future as a role model for America's congressional Democrats. And then it really got strange.

Senate Democrats joined the Republicans in late January in unanimously confirming the appointment of General David Petraeus, a counterinsurgency expert and coauthor of the new surge proposal, sending him off with godspeed and good wishes to the front. Then they began to try to kneecap his efforts, seeking to deny him troops and/or money in an ongoing series of votes of no confidence, coupled with predictions that he would not succeed. Lest anyone at home or abroad not get their message, they rapidly passed two resolutions declaring their profound lack of faith in his mission. One, from Carl Levin on February 5, declared the Senate's disagreement with the "plan to augment our forces"; the other, from Harry Reid two weeks later, declared it the sense of Congress that "Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."