Throughout the campaign, the media have demanded that John Kerry detail a strategy for dealing with Iraq. Never mind that the situation has changed dramatically, month-by-month, throughout the campaign. Never mind that even if it were possible to propose a "perfect solution" for today's situation, that solution would be hopelessly out-of-date by January. Never mind that, no matter what the plan, the Bush Campaign would ridicule any element that it could not coopt. (That led to the recent pecularity, following Kerry's first clear speech on an Iraq plan, in which the unreflective Bush Campaign declared through parallel statements to the media, "His ideas are the same as ours" and "He's advocating 'defeat and retreat'".) Never mind that no similar demand has been made of the Bush Campaign.
I'll give David Ignatius this much - at least he's breaking with the nonsensical pattern of demanding the challenger to outline precisely what he would do in Iraq while failing to make any similar demand of the Bush Campaign. But any person who can assert,
The coming offensive in Fallujah could be the bloodiest combat that U.S. forces have faced yet in Iraq. Worse, it could push interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's fragile interim government toward the breaking point. One early warning sign was this week's comment by interim President Ghazi Yawar, a Sunni Muslim, criticizing recent U.S. airstrikes on Fallujah as "collective punishment." It was Yawar's threat to quit the interim government last April that helped halt the previous U.S. offensive in Fallujah.has to also know that a strategy for the present situation in Iraq, let alone an exit strategy, could be dramatically changed by the success or failure of such a venture - and that even a military success could result in a profound setback if it inspires the collapse of the Allawi government, broadens the "resistance", or prevents elections.
If you try to put yourself in the boots of a U.S. soldier in Iraq, what you want to know from the candidates is: Can we win this thing, and if not, how can we get out? Unfortunately, the debate didn't really illuminate those essential questions. The most difficult days in Iraq may well lie ahead, but neither candidate has leveled with the country about how severe that test will be, or what fallback plans he has if his assumptions prove overly optimistic.The questions are not entirely unfair, but Ignatius again ignores the fact that what might work today might not work tomorrow, let alone next month. The answer to "can we win this thing" seemed a bit different when Bush was strutting beneath his "Mission Accomplished" banner than it does today - and the colossal mistakes made since that time make it much less likely that we will achieve the results we most desire. Then, "winning" was defined as creating a stable nation with a secular, democratic government. Today, "winning" seems to be defined as achieving stability, preventing civil war, and creating a government that is not hostile to western interests. Would Ignatius call a plan to achieve that end a plan for victory?
Bush, the person in the best position to provide the type of answers Ignatius demands, won't provide them. His answers would be an admission of the failure of his central promises in the "liberation" of Iraq, and would also reveal that he has no "exit strategy". And his campaign can't simultaneously accuse Kerry of "defeat and retreat" while simultaneously proposing Bush's plan for doing precisely what he ridicules.
Bush would love for Kerry to paint a strategic picture on Iraq that addresses the present realities. "See how negative and pessimistic he is. Defeat and retreat. He's setting back our interests in the region." Columnists like Ignatius need to place the onus on the Bush Administration to announce its plan - to which the Kerry camp could then be called upon to respond with what it would do differently. And Bush knows that had he clearly enunciated his plan for Iraq and "exit strategy", he would have had to update the plan so frequently as to be (in his parlance) the quintessential flip-flopper, or would have had to repeatedly admit failure. Or both.
Perhaps, before being allowed to write columns like this, columnists like Ignatius should be required to propose their own plans to achieve victory in Iraq, and their ideas of a viable exit strategy. Perhaps such a demand would be the only thing that would wake them up to the realities of the situation, and why their demands are rather silly.