The new Vietnam

Pub date January 16, 2007
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL And now, President George W. Bush wants to commit another 20,000 troops.

Twenty thousand more US kids, going to fight a war that can’t be won. Twenty thousand more lives in potential danger for no imaginable purpose. This isn’t the "surge" Bush has invoked; it’s an escalation, one reminiscent of the worst days of the Vietnam War, when Presidents Lyndon Johnston and then Richard Nixon sent more and more troops into a quagmire from which there was no good exit. If anything, Iraq is worse: when the United States fled Vietnam, there was at least a stable government to take over.

Bush has given the Democrats a huge opportunity here, a chance to create the sort of political sea change that only comes once or twice a decade. Watergate set the Republicans back for much of the 1970s. The energy crisis and the Iran hostage situation knocked the Democrats out of power in the 1980s, and Bill Clinton’s health care fiasco gave the GOP control of Congress in the 1990s. The Iraq War gave the House and Senate back to the Democrats last fall — and the Bush escalation could give them back the White House in 2008.

This is the end of the Bush presidency. Iraq will poison any Republican who sides with the president and supports the escalation. And it will be political gold for Democratic candidates and leaders — if they are willing to seize the opportunity.

That’s not by any means certain. Bush still has an ace in the perception hole: his spin team will insist that opposing funds for the increased military action will amount to a failure to support the troops. Democrats in Congress have refused to confront that line in the past — and with the party’s fear of being seen as soft on national security, it’s entirely possible that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be outspoken in their criticism of the policy but cautious when it comes to cutting off funds.

That would be a serious mistake on every level.

Remember: the odds are very good that many of those 20,000 soldiers will never make it home and that many, many more will come home mutilated and maimed. The odds that this surge will succeed in controlling violence in Baghdad are next to zero. And since Bush is acting unilaterally, without congressional assent, the only way to stop this madness is to cut off funding.

Pelosi has been devoting most of her energy and political capital to the rather modest advances of the "100 hours" strategy. But frankly, nothing on her agenda is as important as ending the war. The House and Senate leadership need to move immediately to eliminate funding for any troop escalation. *