GADFLY 

KATRINA -- THE EXIT STRATEGY WE'VE BEEN MISSING

The Republican ship of state has capsized in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Katrina effect only added insult to the injury represented by the steep and precipitous loss of confidence in the administration's other policies, notably its conduct of the war in Iraq. Opinion polls show that the President is at an all-time low in the public's confidence, and that the country has stopped trusting him to do what's needed in Iraq.

In the face of this shipwreck, Republicans appear to be headed for the lifeboats, with public statements that have been openly critical of the administration's conduct of both these seminal events. And yet, the Democrats continue to suck their collective thumbs, unwilling to capitalize on these gaping opportunities to step into the breach. Instead of adopting the strategy of a strengthened insurgency (much less the “loyal opposition”) in the face of a weakened occupying force (surely no one doubts that Washington is Republican-occupied territory?), they have been paralyzed by what can only be described as an attack of the Stockholm Syndrome (i.e., where the hostages begin to identify with their captors).

Led by no one, but defined by the “go along to get along” attitude perfected by the likes of John Kerry and our very own Congressman Harold Ford Jr., the Democrats appear to be afraid of casting their own political shadow. Even on Katrina, the Democrats have been muted in their righteous criticism of the debacle by falling prey to the “blame game” conundrum being so successfully played on them by the administration's apologists.

On Iraq, Democrats refuse (with the notable exception of Russ Feingold, whose statement supporting a deadline for withdrawal has been marginalized even by his own party) to offer an alternative to “staying the course,”apparently fearing the false choice of being labeled “cut and runners.” They also can't seem to get their acts together on deciding whether there's a risk that John Roberts, unrevealing as his appearance before them was, may end up being another Scalia or Thomas, but in Kennedy clothing. And on Katrina, they even flubbed, in a small but significant way, the slam dunk (favored by 81% of the public) of calling for an independent (rather than a congressional or presidential) investigation of the Katrina debacle by allowing Hillary Clinton, of all the non-polarizing, non-aspirational people they could have gotten, to sponsor the resolution calling for it in the Senate, not surprisingly thereby guaranteeing its defeat along party lines.

But Katrina has now given the Democrats a golden opportunity to turn its normal diet of the proverbial inedible chicken substance into the edible one, and on a two for one special to boot. Polls are showing that the public, (a) doesn't believe the government can continue to fund operations in Iraq at the same time it undertakes Katrina re-building efforts, and (b) believes that of all the alternatives, the best way to fund the Katrina rebuilding effort is to reduce spending on Iraq.

Voila! An engraved invitation to the Democrats to come out of their bunkers and pronounce, righteously, that it's impossible for us to fight a war on two fronts (or Gulfs), one on an insurgency in Iraq, and the other on the disastrous socioeconomic and environmental conditions in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and that we may not, much as we might like to, be able to pay for guns in Baghdad even as we try to pay for butter in New Orleans and Biloxi.

A pronouncement like this gets the Democrats off the horns of their self-created dilemma of calling for an expedited disengagement in Iraq, since they can say it's not a choice they made, but one that was forced on them by the events in our Gulf, and by a $300 billion deficit.

It would appear that the choice for Americans between helping their countrymen rebuild their lives and helping the citizens of another country build theirs (not one they had to make, for example, during the tsunami, or even when Iraq was first invaded) is a no-brainer,. Who can forget the pictures of pitiful hurricane victims wondering aloud why their country could airlift billions of dollars in supplies to cities they never heard of halfway around the world (Falujah, Ramadi,Tikrit, etc.), in a heartbeat, but not get a few thousand bottles of water to a dehydrated New Orleans in a week?

With the situation in Iraq deteriorating to startling levels (nine more American deaths just today), the electorate believing that the war may not be worth fighting given their concomitant belief (according to the polls) that we're not achieving one of the main goals of fighting it (i.e., to make us more secure “over here” by fighting “over there”), and the fact that we have now been tragically shown that terrorism may not be the primary threat to our lives, the Democrats could find themselves in a Katerina/Iraq, win/win situation by using one as the reason to extricate us from the other. The question is, can they take their noses out of the Republicans' butts long enough to smell the coffee?

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