Cut 'n' run vs. lie 'n' die

What Congress talks about when it talks about war.

Published June 22, 2006 1:34PM (EDT)

The facts are bad in Iraq. Karl Rove knows that. Dan Bartlett knows that. President Bush knows that. The American people know that. But as the New York Times is reporting this morning, that is not something anyone should admit in an election year:

"People who attended a series of high-level meetings this month between White House and Congressional officials say President Bush's aides argued that it could be a politically fatal mistake for Republicans to walk away from the war in an election year."

Take care to follow the bouncing ball on this one. The argument made by the White House does not contend that the U.S. should not eventually walk away from Iraq. If things continue as they are, withdrawal is an inevitability, not an option. Everyone knows this. Instead, the White House is arguing that admitting this reality in an election year "could be a politically fatal mistake."

The sad thing is, the White House is probably right. When it comes to Iraq, the only issue Republicans have left is the Democrats, whom they can still call sissies and cowards to great effect. Wednesday's debate in the Senate is proof enough. Republicans have rallied around "cut and run" epithets while Democrats have squabbled over what withdrawal means to them, when it should happen and why they are strong -- really they are. With the enormous megaphone of Congress, Republicans posture in a macho fantasy world, while Democrats flounder in reality. As a result, the facts in Iraq are no longer the topic of conversation. As ABC's the Note observed yesterday, "If you have to deny your non-binding resolution amounts to 'cut and run,' you are losing the battle (and the war -- but not that war)." Score one for the Republicans.

But the game is not over. The elections are still months away. The facts in Iraq are still bad. Barring a remarkable turnaround, which all Americans would love to see, the body bags will keep coming home, the bombs will keep going off, and most of the Iraqi people will continue to see America as an occupying force. At some point, in the privacy of the polling booth, our countrymen and women will get to decide how much blood and treasure should be spilled overseas in the name of domestic political gain.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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