05/24/2007 11:20 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Anti-War Principle

The Democrats who vote this week to give the president the additional
he wants for his war without a "timeline of withdrawal" are acting on a
rational calculation. Nothing, for them, outweighs the importance of 2008, when
they look to wrest control of the White House from a demoralized Republican
party. The only way to assure that result is to pin the war--all of it--on the
president and his followers. You do it by letting them lose the war in their
own way.

Let us concede the realism of the view. The pragmatists mean to watch as the
president destroys himself and his party and as much of the U.S. Army and
American prestige in the world as still remains for him to destroy. That could
be quite a lot, but--so the calculation runs--when it is over it will really be
over. The fault will be easy to recognize, heavy to lift, impossible to deny.

By comparison, the argument for declaring a schedule of withdrawal has
on a vague blend of reasons. The opposition says the 2006 election was a
mandate, and so it was--but the people never told the Democrats how to get out.
Again it is said the risk to our soldiers has become exorbitant--and yet if the
cause were righteous, would Americans not want to accept the risk? Finally,
some opponents have treated the war as an accidental intrusion on our politics.
"The Iraqi government by its quarrels and delays, and the Iraqi people with
their bloodlettings, have disappointed us terribly. They have proved themselves
at last unworthy of our generosity." This excuse is congenial to all who want to
pretend we had no part in bringing anarchy to Iraq. It is the easy thing to say;
and people are saying it.

The argument that carries most force for ending the war now is a moral
argument. It is known to the Democratic opposition, but they have mainly left
it unspoken. It says that we have no justifiable cause for killing and dying in
Iraq; that we can't inflict this suffering any longer on our soldiers, or on the
Iraqi people; that we have become a source and a stimulus of violence in that
country, more than we can hope to be its remedy; that the only Iraqis who
steadily tell us otherwise are America's dependents and camp followers--the
unfortunate minority who stand to lose more if we leave than if we stay. Only
when this moral argument becomes a public fact will the opposition have found
an answer to the calculation of the Democratic party realists and the wish by
the president to be out of office before the blame descends.

Disgust with the war is general. Informed opposition has a distance to go.
must turn on something about us, not something about them. It must mention the
tortures at Abu Ghraib, the massacre at Haditha, the house-to-house devastation
of Falluja--the city we destroyed in order to save it. A country responsible for
such things may have meant well, but it can't expect others to grant its
honorable intentions. There comes a time when past actions speak louder than
present words. If the war has become intolerable and not just politically
inexpedient--intolerable because of the things we have allowed ourselves to do
to Iraq, and the things the world has seen us do--the Democratic opposition
must say so. Their majority may then grow larger; it will certainly grow
stronger. And it will have a reply waiting for General Petraeus when he says,
as surely he will in September, that the situation is dangerous but getting
better; that he needs a little more time, a few more walls, a few thousand more