Thursday, May 10, 2007

Retreat is A Fine Republican Tradition

The way some ardent war supporters act, they tend to think that all Republicans have stood strong when it comes to national defense instead of doing in the words of the immortal Kenny Rogers (before his dreadful facelift) to "know when to fold them" and to "know when to walk away."

The fact is, Republican leaders in the past have known when it was time to walk away from what appeared to be an intractable situation. Steve Chapman notes the historical nature of Republicans "cutting and running:"

During last week's Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Library, Rudy Giuliani cited the 40th president as a model of fortitude in dealing with enemies. Among "the things that Ronald Reagan taught us," he declared, is that "we should never retreat in the face of terrorism."

No one present was impolite enough to mention that far from spurning retreat in the face of terrorism, the Gipper embraced it. After the 1983 terrorist bombing in Beirut, which killed 241 American military personnel, he recognized the futility of our presence in Lebanon and pulled out...

The truth is, Republican presidents are not known for staying the course in the face of adversity. Dwight Eisenhower ran on a promise to end the Korean war, which he did -- on terms that allowed the communist aggressors to remain in power in the North. Richard Nixon negotiated a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese government, which provided for a U.S. pullout. Gerald Ford presided over the fall of Saigon and the final, humiliating American evacuation.

In those instances, the presidents came to grips with the unpleasant truth that sometimes, you can't achieve the desired outcome without an excessive sacrifice, if at all. But when it comes to Iraq, Republicans insist we should be ready to pay any price in pursuit of a victory that has eluded us for so long. In their view, weighing the costs against the benefits, or acknowledging that we don't have a formula for success, is tantamount to appeasement.

What Republicans stood for in the past was a sober realism about the limits of our power and our good intentions. That spirit is absent today. They act as though slogans are a substitute for strategy. What they claim as steadfast resolve looks more like blind obstinacy.

The thing is, if we really wanted to win in Iraq, we should have committed more than the small number of troops that were offered at the beginning of this war. It is silly, as Chapman notes, to say we need to stay and fight and yet not being willing to commit the necessary resources.

For me, it seems that what we need to do is find a way to get out of this war in a way that doesn't screw the Iraqis. I don't think we should just leave and damn the Iraqis as some on Left would say, but we can't stay forever, no matter how noble the mission. Yes, leaving does have consequences- Al Queda assumed that our leaving Lebanon in 1984 and Somalia in 1993 meant that the US was a paper tiger that could be cowed after a terrorist attack- but so does staying. Americans will not stand for being in a war with no end.

Many Republicans revere Reagan for standing up to the Soviets. Well, he did, but he also found ways to negotiate with the Russians and ended up making peace with them. In the end, Reagan was not the ideological hawk that so mamy Republicans think he was, but a hard realist who knew when to fight and when to make peace. That is something that the current Republican president, members of Congress and the current slate of presidential candidates has seemed to forget.

Surely there has to be a way to get out of Iraq by saving some face. The sad thing is that the President will not listen and the GOP will pay the price for his staying the course which looks less like fortitude and more like someone not grounded in reality.

Retreat doesn't have to mean failure.


Pete Abel said...

Brilliantly written. Priceless insight for all of us to consider.

Pete Abel said...

Brilliantly written. Important insight, for all of us to consider.