To the President: Lead!

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wasn’t it plain enough going in? You don’t need a blue-ribbon commission stuffed and dressed with Beltway eminences to tell you how to win a war. That isn’t what blue-ribbon commissions are for. Commissions like the Iraq Study Group exist as public diversions from whatever business at hand seems — to the commission-organizers — hard of solution without some accompanying political cover. Politics: That’s what we are about with the study group. Plain old politics.

I should think it was time for a little less of that stuff, and for a lot more leadership — of a political nature, yes, but not of the sort commonly associated with whispered conversations and elbow nudges. Elbows, indeed! What we need is some heads knocked together.

To the president: You got us where we are. Come on — lead.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A fine exhortation, I guess, from a civilian. Lead how? With what tools, what weapons?

Let me put it this way: America is progressively less sure there’s anyone — including the president — presently running the show in Iraq. The show has been a bad and wearying and divisive one; this we all know. The problem right now, it seems to me, is that there’s no aim beyond a “stable” Iraq — whatever that facile vision might convey to our policymakers.

Can’t we just win? Win without ambiguity? Americans don’t really grasp the point, it seems to me, but we have somehow, silently, decided on a Korean War “solution” — a splitting of differences and a partial withdrawal from the field. The only presidential candidate presently promoting unambiguous victory in Iraq is John McCain, who, instead of counting the days until we bring the troops home, wants to send more there.

For us to win, things would have to get uglier, snarlier, more divisive at home. We would have to take McCain’s advice on troop strength. We might have to seal, however imperfectly, Iraq’s borders with Syria and Iran, over which money and munitions constantly pour, headed for the murderous militias that have brought Iraqi affairs to this unpleasant pass. We would unmistakably have to pound those militias into powder, or at least into temporary submission.

Think the world’s only superpower can’t do it? All the world’s only superpower lacks by way of means is the confidence — admixed with some commendable ruthlessness — to get the job done. The world’s only superpower doesn’t like those terms, which might involve telling journalistic and political ruffians where to get off.

It depends on how badly one wants to win. The Bush administration — alas — hasn’t convinced critics here or abroad that it wants to win badly enough even to tell off The New York Times and its snippy defeatists.

The administration, to its credit, is seriously put off by the study group report and its varied suggestions, such as cozier relationships with Iran and Syria. You know just how bad things have gotten when your advisers want you to kiss up to enemies instead of — in the spirit of nobler Americans, e.g., Lincoln and Patton — run over the so-and-sos. Upon that knowledge the White House now can build, even in an adverse political climate, by laying out an understandable plan for victory, with measurable goals, not just a load of hope, velleities and summonses to “stay the course.”

Come on, Mr. President. If you think this cause matters — and you must, because you led us into it — get out and pull and push and wheedle and browbeat the country into some semblance of conformity to your hopes and wishes. Let the rest of your legacy go. It’s come to that. There’s nothing but Iraq on the table now. If plenty of Americans are sick of the whole commitment, plenty of others don’t contemplate easily the eventual triumph of Islamic crazies (Iran’s Ahmadinejad comes to mind) and savages in suicide belts.

No more commissions, Mr. President. Come on. Lead.

(To find out more about William Murchison and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at