The Senate votes on pulling out of Iraq revealed a damning fact: Of the many Democrats running for president, there is not yet a commander in chief among them. No one who imagines personally shouldering the terrible burdens of wartime leadership could possibly vote for either of those awful resolutions.
Yet the five Dem Senators aiming for the Oval Office - Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd and Russ Feingold - raised their hands to demand troops begin leaving Iraq this year and that President Bush submit a plan for total withdrawal. Kerry and Feingold went a sorry step further by sponsoring a resolution calling for a complete withdrawal in a year.
The efforts got only a single GOP vote and not even all the Democratic ones, a sign of Dem disarray and GOP decisions not to run from the war. One result is that the momentum is changing. Less than five months before midterm elections, a Democratic sweep looks less likely. Once again, Bush's flaws, which are huge, seem less dangerous than unprincipled ambition and fecklessness.
Dems hate to be accused of "cutting and running," but what else to call those deplorable war votes? Kerry, the instigator, tried a sleight-of-hand, saying his measure envisioned a "redeployment" within a year. C'mon - redeployment is another word for retreat. And surrender. And defeat.
Yes, Iraq is a horrible hellhole where nothing has gone as planned or promised. The Pentagon still does not have a clear view of the enemy. The cost has been too high and victory is not assured, which is why the American public wishes it had never happened. Some Dems conceded they tried to tap into that disgust with their pullback votes.
But it's bad policy and worse politics. On a gut level, our choices remain starkly simple: Either we finish the mission, which is to nurture a stable Iraqi democracy, or we give up and get out. There is no in-between, almost-pregnant choice. Arguing that we have to finish by any date means we're leaving then, regardless of the situation. If we're leaving on a schedule, why not leave now and cut our losses?
We stay or we go. Even most of those voters who hate the war realize as much, which is why I believe Dems hurt themselves with the pullback baloney. No matter how it is sliced and packaged, setting a departure date is planning for defeat.
Oddly, in a dig at Sen. Clinton, Kerry said pols "can't have it both ways" on Iraq. Yet he and the other Dems want just that. They want to surrender - later. Or they want to fight - a little while longer. Kerry is the worst. His resolution to leave within a year was his second choice. He first proposed we leave this year, then he extended it by six months. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.
If any of those Democrats had been at our nation's helm in history, we would not have gotten to D-Day or to Appomattox. Whether it is difficult is not the test of war. Those who would be president must have a steadier, more long-range view of our national interest.
Bush has that gene, often to a fault. He is stubborn and arrogant and wrong more than right. But he believes in the war on terror and has staked his presidency on winning in Iraq. In war and peace, but especially in war, the job requires such resolution. Those who don't have it shouldn't apply.