The president ... has been forced to make what for him is the ultimate sacrifice: jettisoning chunks of vacation to defend the war in any bunker he can find in Utah or Idaho.Frank Rich doesn't give a pass to Democrats who foolishly supported Bush's war either:
It isn't just Mr. Bush who is in a tight corner now. Ms. Sheehan's protest was the catalyst for a new national argument about the war that managed to expose both the intellectual bankruptcy of its remaining supporters on the right and the utter bankruptcy of the Democrats who had rubber-stamped this misadventure in the first place.And this is why I won't support Clinton's candidacy for president.
When the war's die-hard cheerleaders attacked the Middle East policy of a mother from Vacaville, Calif., instead of defending the president's policy in Iraq, it was definitive proof that there is little cogent defense left to be made. When the Democrats offered no alternative to either Mr. Bush's policy or Ms. Sheehan's plea for an immediate withdrawal, it was proof that they have no standing in the debate.
Instead, two conservative Republicans - actually talking about Iraq instead of Ms. Sheehan, unlike the rest of their breed - stepped up to fill this enormous vacuum: Chuck Hagel and Henry Kissinger. Both pointedly invoked Vietnam, the war that forged their political careers. Their timing, like Ms. Sheehan's, was impeccable. Last week Mr. Bush started saying that the best way to honor the dead would be to "finish the task they gave their lives for" - a dangerous rationale that, as David Halberstam points out, was heard as early as 1963 in Vietnam, when American casualties in that fiasco were still inching toward 100.
Among Washington's Democrats, the only one with a clue seems to be Russell Feingold, the Wisconsin senator who this month proposed setting a "target date" (as opposed to a deadline) for getting out. Mr. Feingold also made the crucial observation that "the president has presented us with a false choice": either "stay the course" or "cut and run." That false choice, in which Mr. Bush pretends that the only alternative to his reckless conduct of the war is Ms. Sheehan's equally apocalyptic retreat, is used to snuff out any legitimate debate. There are in fact plenty of other choices echoing about, from variations on Mr. Feingold's timetable theme to buying off the Sunni insurgents.
But don't expect any of Mr. Feingold's peers to join him or Mr. Hagel in fashioning an exit strategy that might work. If there's a moment that could stand for the Democrats' irrelevance it came on July 14, the day Americans woke up to learn of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed as many as 27 people, nearly all of them children gathered around American troops. In Washington that day, the presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference vowing to protect American children from the fantasy violence of video games.
As another politician from the Vietnam era, Gary Hart, observed last week, the Democrats are too cowardly to admit they made a mistake three years ago, when fear of midterm elections drove them to surrender to the administration's rushed and manipulative Iraq-war sales pitch. So now they are compounding the original error as the same hucksters frantically try to repackage the old damaged goods.
IN the new pitch there are no mushroom clouds. Instead we get McCarthyesque rhetoric accusing critics of being soft on the war on terrorism, which the Iraq adventure has itself undermined. Before anyone dare say Vietnam, the president, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld drag in the historian David McCullough and liken 2005 in Iraq to 1776 in America - and, by implication, the original George W. to ours. Before you know it, Ahmad Chalabi will be rehabilitated as Ben Franklin.
Even though their own poll numbers are in a race to the bottom with the president's, don't expect the Democrats to make a peep. Republicans, their minds increasingly focused on November 2006, may well blink first. In yet another echo of Vietnam, it's millions of voters beyond the capital who will force the timetable for our inexorable exit from Iraq.