The future of our policy in Iraq – one of two dominant issues during the just concluded 2006 Congressional elections – is now the only real issue on our national political landscape. With new presidential candidates announcing almost every day, Iraq will be front and center for months to come.

The most interesting aspects of the current Iraq debate are that it doesn’t break cleanly between Democrats and Republicans and that it will test the strategic competence of the now majority Democratic Congressional leadership. With presidential politics starting so early, the politics of Iraq will put real internal pressure on the Democratic party because of the role of activist anti-war Democrats in the nominating process.

The “ peace now” wing of the Democratic party wants Congressional Democrats to cut off funding for any additional war effort immediately and start to pull out of Iraq right away. The more traditional Democratic politicians (represented by the Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate) want us to end our involvement in Iraq in an orderly way without letting the administration blame Democrats for the failure of its own policy.

Democratic presidential candidates, of course, want to have it both ways. They will support the Congressional leadership’s non-binding “no-confidence” resolution and stake out various positions to the left of the leadership.

George Bush desperately needs both an accomplice to share the blame for his failure in Iraq and a foil to rail against. His fellow Republican, John McCain, is his only real accomplice at this point who has crawled out on a limb with him. Congressional Democrats, the administration’s ideal foil, should not fall into the trap of cutting funds for our troops, thus giving Bush an excuse for his failure.

Democratic presidential candidates naturally will be pushed to the left by “ peace now” activists who have a disproportionate influence in Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses. It will be up to Democratic Congressional leaders to keep their heads by expressing opposition to the administration’s policy but not attempting an abrupt cut-off of funds that could play into the hands of cynical Republican campaign operatives.

This is George Bush’s war and let’s be clear who is responsible for the ultimate outcome. His failed policy led to the current intolerable situation and nothing that he has proposed has worked. If the “surge” helps to somewhat stabilize Iraq, I’m willing to let Bush claim some credit, but he cannot undo the damage he has done to American foreign policy around the world or to the overall strength and readiness of our military.

We should never forget the mistakes that this administration has made during the past three and a half years. These include failure to listen to the president’s own generals, failure to provide enough troops to stabilize the country early on, failure to provide adequate equipment such as armored humvees and body armor, failure to have a plan to combat the insurgency and failure to understand that civil war was highly likely once the Iraqi army was disbanded.

Congressional Democrats will overwhelming support the non-binding resolution (the closest thing we have under our system to a “no-confidence” vote) expressing opposition to the surge strategy and stating that it is in America’s national interest to end our involvement in Iraq in an orderly way. It should get a number of Republican votes.

Hopefully there will be some semblance of a democracy in Iraq when this is all over, but it’s now up the Iraqi people to determine whether or not democracy can succeed in their country. It should not be up to us to keep troops there indefinitely even if that means that democracy may fail.

We have a legitimate interest in promoting democracy around the world. We are convinced that our system is the best form of government. I agree with that proposition and have been a part of promoting democracy internationally over the past 17 years. As a member of Congress, I headed a special Congressional task force that advised the parliaments of Eastern and Central Europe about the establishment of democracy after the Berlin Wall opened up in late 1989.

Following my Congressional service, I worked at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, promoting democracy in some of the former Soviet Republics.

My experience has taught me a significant lesson: democracy doesn’t work everywhere and it particularly cannot be imposed with the barrel of a gun. A country’s population has to want a democratic form of government and sometimes old ethnic hatreds simply get in the way. In reality, sometimes a civil war is inevitable. We have seen a situation in the former Yugoslavia where the country could not be held together and has broken apart into separate nations. That may be the ultimate result in Iraq. If it is, we can only hope that at least some of the pieces will be friendly to the West and governed in a way that is fair to the population.

Some Democrats were not skeptical or vigilant enough at the time of the initial vote to commit troops to Iraq. They did not challenge the administration strongly enough on the facts, trusting that the executive branch would not lie to them on something as important as national security. Republicans flatly abandoned their responsibility to conduct oversight and let the Bush administration run roughshod over them. Hopefully that will not happen again.

That being the case, Democrats need to state their concerns but let Bush play out his hand over the next few months. He owns this war. Democrats should help extricate our country from a terrible situation but in a way that does not permit Bush, Cheney, et. al. to blame Democrats for their own failure.

The Iraq War is Bush’s legacy. Let’s not confuse the issue.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Welte and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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