Republican Senators Tell Unpleasant Truths

In a Sept. 20 speech that was long overdue, John Kerry outlined the deceptions and failures of George W. Bush’s policy in Iraq. Because he is the Democratic nominee for President, and because he hasn’t expressed his view of the war with such clarity and cogency before, many voters may remain deaf to Mr. Kerry’s realistic warnings about the price of Mr. Bush’s “stubborn incompetence.”

Partisan though his speech at New York University surely was, however, much the same message is being delivered by the most respected figures in the ruling party.

So if you don’t want to hear a Democrat say that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating dangerously, listen to a Republican Senator instead. “The worst thing we can do is hold ourselves hostage to some grand illusion we’re winning,” said Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska. “Right now, we are not winning. Things are getting worse …. The fact is, we’re in deep trouble in Iraq.”

If you don’t want to hear a Democrat tell how the Bush administration botched the mission that is further from being accomplished today than a year ago, listen to another Republican Senator. “We made serious mistakes right after the initial successes by not having enough troops there on the ground, by allowing the looting, by not securing the borders,” said Arizona’s John McCain, still a fervent supporter of the war. “There were a number of things that we did. Most of it can be traced back to not having sufficient numbers of troops there.”

If you don’t want to hear a Democrat criticize the President and his associates for their delusional approach to Iraq, listen to a very senior Republican Senator.

“Our committee heard blindly optimistic people from the administration prior to the war and people outside the administration—what I call the ‘dancing in the street’ crowd—that we just simply will be greeted with open arms,” said Richard Lugar of Indiana, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The nonsense of all that is apparent. The lack of planning is apparent.”

Those three Senators are speaking out because they believe the President isn’t being candid about the crisis in Iraq, and because they fear that he has no plan to stabilize the country and extricate our troops.

They’re rightly outraged when Mr. Bush, the would-be Woodrow Wilson, declares himself pleased by the “progress” toward “democracy” in Baghdad, where nobody can travel without bodyguards. They’re furious that his administration cannot account for billions spent, and cannot even spend the billions they authorized. While the President complains constantly about Mr. Kerry’s vote against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation last year, the sad fact is that his appointees so far have found no way to use that money wisely—and are now asking Congress to allow them to “reprogram” the funds they failed to spend.

The three Republican Senators are appalled as well by the evident influence of politics on military strategy, as American commanders struggle to pacify an increasingly alienated population. While Islamist and Baathist insurgents consolidate, the administration hesitates to act—because a sudden spike in U.S. casualties would endanger Mr. Bush’s electoral prospects.

And although they politely avoided the topic, those honest Republicans may well wonder how Mr. Bush can pretend ignorance of the grim assessment delivered by U.S. intelligence agencies last July. That estimate warns that Iraq will remain unstable at best for the foreseeable future, and at worst will descend into civil war.

That is a sickening prospect—not only for the continuous suffering it would cause the Iraqi people, but for the opportunity such internecine strife would afford our most determined enemies. There is already reason to worry that the Shiite rebellion has created an opening for Iranian agents to extend their influence in Iraq—and for terrorists linked to Al Qaeda to find refuge there.

The American occupation already seems to have inspired new cooperation between Shiite and Sunni Islamists, despite their religious antipathy. A chaotic “failed state” is the perfect environment for terror to flourish, posing a worse threat to our security than Saddam Hussein ever did.

Actually, as a timely leak from the C.I.A.’s Iraq Survey Group reiterated last week, Mr. Hussein had no “weapons of mass destruction” and no way to manufacture such weapons in meaningful amounts. That isn’t Democratic propaganda, or an outtake from a Michael Moore movie. It is merely factual information, gathered over many months by Mr. Bush’s own appointees, that explodes any justification for war.

Having made war anyway, Mr. Bush eventually will be forced to confront its unsustainable realities. This could mean a series of horrifically violent confrontations in Iraq’s cities, a postponement of the January elections, a wider call-up of National Guard and Reserve units, or even a renewed military draft.

Dissembling now may preserve Mr. Bush’s advantage for the next six weeks. But should he win a second term, beware the “November surprise” that will begin to bring home the true costs of his feckless adventure.