Midterms and Wars; History Speaks to Bush and Congress

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The great Washington rush to judgment is on. After an election loss, there is always a time for recriminations, blood-letting and eventually regrouping. President Bush and congressional Republicans alike were stung by the loss of Congress, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was soon after designated as the requisite human sacrifice under such circumstances. All of this drama is part and parcel of Washington.

Judging by the polls, there is no doubt that a major portion of the electorate was motivated by dissatisfaction with U.S. efforts in Iraq. According to an ABC News exit poll, six in 10 voters said they disapproved of the war. A CNN exit poll found disapproval from 56 percent. And according to a Newsweek poll, 63 percent of respondents believe we are losing ground in Iraq, a number that has been steadily rising. Iraq clearly motivated Democrats and young voters, who increased their participation by 28 percent and who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

Meanwhile, corruption and profligate federal spending created disillusionment among conservative voters, whose participation was down 2 percent. Many probably had their own doubts about Iraq as well. All of this is, perhaps, not very strange insofar as the media attention has been unrelentingly negative, in part because sectarian violence continues to escalate, and in part because of media bias against the administration and the war.

While the rituals of American democracy are what they are, the consequences for U.S. policy in Iraq and world leadership in general could be dire if the rush to judgment results in a precipitous and ill-conceived withdrawal. Of course, policy-makers should listen to the voice of the electorate, but they will have to balance that against the U.S. interest globally and long-term success in the war against terrorism.

Democrats have lost no time spelling out what they want. Sen. Carl Levin, incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has already called for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to start as early as four months from now. Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Biden, incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been shopping the idea of partition of Iraq around for a while.

Both parties are vesting a great deal of hope in the work of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker-Hamilton commission, which is expected to produce a set of policy recommendations in early December. …