Watching a little bit of the Gen. David Patraeus/Ambassador Ryan Crocker appearance before a couple House committees Monday afternoon, I couldn't help come to the conclusion that U.S. servicemen and women will be in Iraq in large numbers for a long time.
At least until Jan. 20, 2009, when it is widely predicted that, for good or ill, some sort of Democrat will be moving into the White House.
In fact, the more one considers the entire Iraq situation, simply hanging on until January 2009 seems to be the entirety of the mission now.
I heard or read somewhere over the weekend that President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the rest of the administration came to the realization long ago that Iraq is lost and that whatever is going to happen there will happen eventually despite anything the U.S. does. With that being the case, the goal now is to try to manage the situation in such a way that as little damage as possible is inflicted on the Republican Party.
And the way to accomplish that is to stay the course.
By maintaining a large military presence, the thinking goes, we can at least keep a lid on the violence like how Daddy stops beating on Mommy when the police are standing on the front stoop.
Winning the White House in 2008 and adopting the Iraq stepchild could wind up being disastrous for Democrats, who likely will become "Fordized," by it, as University of Michigan Iraq expert Juan Cole put it recently on his "Informed Comment" blog.
Remember when President Ford evacuated U.S. personnel from Vietnam in 1975 the infamous helicopters taking off from the roof of our embassy, just steps ahead of the North Vietnamese who were overrunning Saigon? 2009 could, if not be downright likely to, look eerily similar if and when the next president starts pulling out of Baghdad, not to mention $5-to-$10-a-gallon gasoline and potential regional conflagration that could result from an Iraq meltdown.
The 1975 Saigon evacuation, broadcast around the world, was very demoralizing to Americans, particularly Republicans, and likely cost Ford the presidency in 1976. Of course we also had stagflation and Watergate, but it was the loss of a war in the middle of the Cold War that kept many Republicans from the polls. This is what allowed an unknown like Jimmy Carter to win the presidency.
Unable to muster the votes, or the will, to pull the troops out of Iraq before the end of the Bush presidency, the best Democrats can hope for is for Petraeus and Crocker to succeed in bringing the warring factions together and make real progress in stabilizing the country.
Petraeus and Crocker appear to be honorable public servants who are doing their best to salvage Iraq. It's a huge undertaking and we should all be praying for their success.
While it's the Democrats who are obviously being set up as the fall guys, it's our nation, its honor and its standing in the world, that could end up going down with them.