"Love Story," a sappy romance novel of the Vietnam War era, contained the line, "Love means not ever having to say you are sorry." Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., could say the same thing about the war in Iraq. In the most recent televised encounter with fellow Democratic presidential candidates, Clinton not only continued to not apologize for her vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq, but she also called it "Mr. Bush's War."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., denounced Clinton for that remark. A day or so later, however, in an e-mail message to his campaign troops, McCain defended his support of the war while scrupulously avoiding the use of either of two four-letter words: Bush or Iraq.
Obama and Edwards
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., lashed out at John Edwards, saying he was four years late to the apology game. Obama didn't have to apologize because he was against the war from the get-go. Of course, he wasn't serving in Congress then, so his sanctimony is anchored by 20/20 hindsight.
Failure is an orphan while success has more daddies than Anna Nicole Smith's baby. What no one wants to own up to is that they supported George W. Bush in his plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein because it would have been political suicide not to. In the months following 9-11, the emotional climate in this country was such that even people who knew better were unwilling to say publicly that attacking Iraq made no sense.
Saddam had brutally repressed Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq, and as long as he was in power, Iran and Iraq checkmated one another's influence in the region. The current president's old man had the chance to topple Saddam during the first Gulf War but was wise enough to heed allies who implored him not to open that box of snakes.
Whose war is it?
Of course, it's George W. Bush's war; it's also Hillary Clinton's war, Barack Obama's war and the war of every U.S. citizen. It's time for all of us to own up to reasons why we are bleeding -- literally and figuratively -- in Iraq.
If we haven't lost a loved one, we may know someone who has. And even if we have been spared such sorrows, our joint ownership of the war in Iraq will be manifested in a myriad of ways for the rest of our lives. What this generation doesn't shell out for this foolish and futile exercise will be passed along to our children and grandchildren. The damage done to our prestige in the world may take even longer to heal.
What we need from those who would be our next president are neither mea culpas nor finger pointing but to hear how they intend to get U.S. troops out of Iraq while limiting the damage to the extent possible. We must accept that it is not in America's power to fix Iraq's problems. Our troops are in the middle of a civil war rooted in centuries of tribal and sectarian hatred.
Vision of victory
Candidates can call it a war against terrorism, but if they are going to campaign on a platform of victory in Iraq, they need to share with voters their vision of what victory will look like, which isn't easy to do when the people we are trying to help are killing our troops every day.
In case you haven't heard, a majority of the Iraqi parliament recently voted to tell U.S. forces to get the hell out. Few expect the Bush administration to concur, but that begs the question: Why defy the wishes of the duly elected parliament our men and women have fought and died to help establish?
It took the United States years to extricate itself from Vietnam. The biggest obstacle to ending that war was a leadership paralysis arising from fear of being branded as the ones who "lost" Southeast Asia to communism.
Historic parallels are easy to draw -- and easier to refute.
The only certainty about Iraq is that American citizens are less interested in who's winning the blame game than in hearing how we're going to get out of this mess.