Is Anybody Listening?

Phew. After a week of high-decibel political screeching at the 9/11 Commission, things in Washington seem to be settling down. The Commission, which scaled heights of absurdity during the testimony of Richard Clarke and the attempted grilling of Condoleezza Rice, has begun to wither away as a source of active political interest.

Every attempt to lay the September 11th massacres at the feet of George W. Bush (and to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton) have failed utterly — and the public has made it clear that it views with undiluted disgust any attempt to make electoral hay out of a horrible day. Even the commissioners have concluded that there’s no political juice in the inquest — and that they need to turn their attention to something constructive, such as searching for new and better ways to unmask and neutralize malefactors.

Similarly, tempers have begun to cool over the situation in Iraq. Sure, Ted Kennedy sputtered and chuffed about Iraq’s becoming “George Bush’s Vietnam,” while Robert Byrd bravely suggested that we high-tail it out of Mesopotamia. But most politicos politely ignored the eruptions, as if the poor fellows had merely passed gas. The complaints were more notable for theatrics than substance — and observers tended to dismiss the men out of hand, as if to say: “Well, consider the sources. What did you expect?”

Similarly, John Kerry — whose sense of fashion is as stunning as his timing is bad — got an on-the-ground rebuff from Coalition forces. The Democratic Nominee-Presumptive opined in Tuesday’s Washington Post that the situation in Iraq had just “taken a dramatic turn for the worse.” Yet, before the ink on his piece had dried, it was becoming apparent that he was wrong. Marine actions in Fallujah not only smashed the opposition, but also weakened dramatically the anti-American punk cleric, Moqtada al Sadr, who in five short days fell from his perch as upstart-of-the week and landed at his more natural position — pariah. Now, when he talks and utters threats, the ayatollahs sigh and look away.

Wars feature endless twists and turns, and never play according to neat and unchanging scripts. (This is why the constant demands for an “exit” strategy are callow, shallow, and beside the point. There is only one sure and reliable exit strategy for war: Victory.) The Marines responded with admirable skill to the gruesome murder of Americans on March 31 — and managed to quell a rebellion without engaging in the wholesale culling of innocent civilians.

This doesn’t mean the war is over. We will have to endure dozens of other minor battles and hundreds of cheap kidnappings, murders, and acts of terror. But politicians should have learned not to give in to flop-sweat panic every time gun-toting, American-hating insurgents decide to light up the skies with rockets and tracer fire. Our forces will win those fights 100 percent of the time.

The moral to the week’s events is that second-guessing is a lousy political tactic. Democrats and Republicans can and should debate the merits of engagement in Iraq, but they don’t need to waste their time or ours with boring recitals of the Clinton- and Bush-hating bills of particulars. If polls are correct, Americans have told such folks: Rail all you like, but don’t delude yourself into thinking that anybody’s listening.