Republicans who won’t lead on Iraq War debate can’t lead on other issues

Republican candidates and office holders who support the mission in Iraq have thus far failed to adequately make their case to the public. This isn’t surprising, since these same would-be leaders have also failed miserably to advance domestic policy reforms based on their party’s principles.

Some of these politicians might be tempted to think that Iraq is somehow more difficult to discuss than any other of the big issues. The evidence contradicts that theory, as even the most basic attempts by Republicans to inject some sanity into domestic policy has been met with hysterics for the past twenty years.

Just mention a plan to trim the growth rate of some program and watch a 24/7 onslaught kick into high gear from the public relations offices of countless tax eating interest groups. Most of the media gladly helps.

Regarding the issue of Iraq, Fouad Ajami, who teaches International Relations at Johns Hopkins University, summed it up by saying that — “the fight for Iraq is a fight to ward off Arab dangers and troubles that came our way” on September 11, 2001.

Isolationist and non-interventionist thinking is easy to sympathize with. No one in their right mind wants to have to deal with religious radicalism and centuries of primitive tribalism and violence that pervades the Middle East.

Most people would prefer a return to what Mr. Ajami refers to as the “fool’s paradise” of the 1990s. That was when illusions about the end of history and America’s security led many to believe that we could exist safely in a world where terrorism was on the advance.

A lot of questions need to be asked. Here are just a few:

  • Are there enemies of America who were inspired by what happened on 9-11-01?
  • Are there enemies of American who have the capability and creativity to repeat mass murder on American soil?
  • Are they our enemies because of who we are — or because of what we do?
  • Did we create our enemies or have they just stepped from the shadows?

Those and other questions need to be answered so every American hears and understands, whether they wind up agreeing or not. Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote in National Review that our leaders have failed to use —

our vast cultural and media resources to explain what is at stake — in a strategic and humanitarian sense — and precisely what it is costing America and why it in the long run is worth it, and how we have adjusted to counter our enemies who in the last four years have not won in Iraq or anywhere else either.

Instead, Hanson said, what we”ve seen up until now from our political leadership on the “critical information” front is “relative inaction.” Since national security is always job number one, our would-be “statesmen” better step up their efforts.

Most wars are difficult and don’t unfold as planned. History tells us that costly mistakes are not uncommon. Despite this, Americans are patient when they are adequately informed about the importance of a mission and the validity of a strategy.

Owen West, a veteran of two tours in Iraq, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal about people telling pollsters that the war in Iraq is —

the single largest anxiety in their lives. Like the majority of the nation, they were exhausted by a war in which they had no role. And they wanted out.

Mr. West writes that there is a “vast moral chasm” that “clearly separates the combatants in Iraq” from those here at home who are disillusioned with the entire effort. This is despite the fact that most Iraqis greet American soldiers who patrol their neighborhoods as “deus ex machina.”

Here is the definition of de-us ex mach-i-na:

In ancient Greek and Roman drama, a god introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot.

So while Americans get weary, Iraqis citizens, who can’t just “withdraw,” see our troops as crucial to the work of stabilizing their country. This “vast moral chasm,” as Mr. West calls it, must be closed, and it won’t be without the serious participation of Republican political leaders.

The fact that peace and prosperity produces soft-mindedness is nothing new. In his new documentary The War. Kevin Burns points out that even people returning home after World War II felt isolated from their fellow citizens. Combat veterans and former prisoners of war were less than impressed with people who complained about relatively small sacrifices suffered back on the home front during the war.

Today, it’s much worse than that, as the Baby Boomer mentality has taken root to the extent that many Americans think wars are no longer necessary. In their view, the day has arrived when we can keep ourselves safe with diplomacy. If we’re nice to our fellow man, he’ll be nice to us.

Exacerbating this public sentiment divide, according to Owen West, is the fact that six years after 9-11-01 the war “is being fought by less than 30% of the military and less than one-half of 1% of the nation.”

Mr. West also writes that —

Our professional warriors who take the most risk believe the nation must commit to a long-term fight that includes Iraq in some form.

Overall support for the endeavor wanes with distance.

This divergence isn’t new. Those who have battled the enemy up close have always been more heavily invested in the cause. What’s different is that in past wars, the nation was tied to its soldiers and had a familial barometer.

Today most Americans have never met a Gold Star family, let alone shaken the hand of a fallen soldier.

Most people agree it’s a dangerous world. We just don’t agree to what extent, and what to do about the dangers that exist. The good news is that there has been literally a flood of good information, news, and analysis over the last several years available to anyone looking to learn why we fight.

While our American military personnel and their families pay the ultimate price, our political leadership dithers. Republican politicians had better start making use of every opportunity to try and change minds back here on the home front — on both foreign and domestic policy matters.

We fight in Iraq to further the American national interest. Like with tax and entitlement reform, however, the case has yet to be made to enough people.

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To illustrate just how much information is available to those who are seeking it, follow these links to many pages of material put into bullet points:

Notes on the War in Iraq:

1. Since the terrorists target public opinion, so should we

2. September 11, 2001 and the reality of the threat

3. What didn’t work before 9/11 and what needed to change

4. Why we invaded Iraq & who supported the decision

5. What went wrong

6. What is going right

7. Why withdrawal is the wrong strategy

8. Why it’s difficult and taking so long

9. Where things stand as of November 2007

10. The good news from Iraq cannot be ignored

11. Examples of things that libertarians and liberals explain away

12. Many Americans have forgotten or never learned what war is