In the new Newsweek poll, 48 percent of Americans say they want U.S. forces home within a year; 67 percent want them back within two years. A scant 23 percent believe they should stay “as long as it takes to achieve U.S. goals.” ~Harold Meyerson

If Washington gossip is right, even many of the president’s own advisers in the White House and the key cabinet offices have given up on success. Official Washington, the media and much of the public have fallen under the unconscionable thrall of defeatism. Which is to say that they cannot conceive of a set of policies — for a nation of 300 million with an annual GDP of over $12 trillion and all the skills and technologies known to man — to subdue the city of Baghdad and environs. Do you think Gen. Patton or Abe Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Joseph Stalin would have thrown their hands up and said, “I give up, there’s nothing we can do”?

Or do you suppose they would have said, let’s send in as many troops as we can assemble to hold on while we raise more troops to finish the job. If the victory is that important — and it is — then failure must be unthinkable, even if it takes another five or 10 years. ~Tony Blankley

This is where the wisdom of the old Powell Doctrine comes in.  An important part of that doctrine, in addition to the ”clear exit strategy” element, was a high degree of national consensus about taking military action.  There was never really any deep, abiding consensus about the need to invade Iraq.  Americans were in an irrationally angry mood, and if Mr. Bush had decided that we needed to invade Switzerland he might have managed to get a bare majority behind him.  One would have pointed out in vain that Switzerland was neutral.  “You’re just an apologist for those cheese-eating financiers of terrorism!” the war supporters would have shouted at you. 

Support for the mission was always inversely related to the level of difficulty.  When it was all supposedly going to be a “cakewalk” and “doable”–at no cost to you, as a classic expression of government deception might have it–there was a broad majority in favour of the war.  As it has become an intractable internecine conflict among Iraqis with no clear way out and no definition of victory beyond euphemisms and recycled talking points from 2003, public support has plummeted to an astonishingly low 21%.  I don’t think the wildly unpopular Korean War, where tens of thousands of Americans died, ever had such low levels of support.  Mr. Bush keeps wanting to embrace the mantle of Truman, and he may well achieve Trumanesque levels of public contempt.  Obviously, in this political environment, the answer is not an insane commitment to do whatever is necessary even if it takes ten years, because the public simply will not stand for it.  In a representative government, some of us still operate on the assumption that public opinion should have some significant part in deciding our future policy. 

Committing to a potentially 10-year war policy that obviously has no broad support right now is ludicrous.  This from someone who has the gall to sniff at the unrealistic views of foreign policy realists!  Try to keep the war going for five more years (you can forget about ten), and things here at home could start to get really ugly.   There is nothing more unrealistic than believing that Americans will tolerate a continuation of this war much beyond November 2008.  Two years is the maximum amount of time Mr. Bush has to get out of Iraq, regardless of what is happening there.  The Washington crowd has studiously avoided much mention of a “timeline” or a “deadline” for withdrawal, but the people have already set that deadline for them.  Two years from now, a full two-thirds of the people (and probably more by then) will demand an end to the war.  The smart policymaker will keep that in mind as he tries to think of how we extricate our soldiers from Iraq–it is getting them out of Iraq that is the main priority and the thing that should most concern people in government.  

Washington does not have five years to make the Iraq war a success: in two years, if it should come to that, the Iraq war will be over five years long.  The American people will have given the government five years to accomplish what they said would take a matter of months.  The powdered elite of Washington in the media and government alike should get down on their knees and thank the people for their patience with elite incompetence across the board.  What we will we hear instead?  The last remaining war supporters will shout abuse at the weak, immoral and “isolationist” American people who have “betrayed” them.  I hope that the people will treat such contempt with the scorn it deserves.