On October 25, 1952, Dwight David Eisenhower, the Republican candidate for president against Adlai Stevenson, TNR's anointed, made what has come to be called his "I shall go to Korea" speech. He did go a month later, and the war ended a half year into his presidency. But Korea was a different kind of war, an old-fashioned war with old-fashioned infantry and battle lines, and it concluded more or less where it had started. The two Koreas went on to pursue their destinies: the one in the north following the dictates of the People's Republic of China but not its rogue capitalist habits; the other, initially under Syngman Rhee's authoritarian rule, emerged as a prosperous and democratic society, a paradigmatic conclusion of the Cold War. That transformation did take decades.
The wars will hardly end so clearly either in Iraq or Afghanistan where Barack Obama has announced that he will go, not after he is elected but before. He is responding aptly to political realities. I more than suspect that the electorate will not turn on what his or John McCain's position on the war was at its beginning...but on what it is now.
And there is an irony to the fact that the Democrats seem to favor the Afghan war, not only over Iraq but as an essential component of our policies in West Asia. Of course, it was in Taliban Afghanistan that the repeated assaults by Al Qaeda on American targets -- the U.S.S. Cole, the two embassies in Africa, others -- originated. Not to mention September 11. A model just war, joined in, more or less, by allies. But the conflict in Afghanistan may be going far worse than the conflict in Iraq. Or to put it more positively (though many of our readers are still in deep denial), the war in Iraq may actually have reached plateaus that one still has to fantasize will occur in Afghanistan.
If the facts on the ground have changed in Iraq, what will Democratic policy -- Obama's policy -- on the war become? If Nouri al-Maliki's government is stable and strong will we pull the rug from under him and it?