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Bitter Fruit


Anyone who's worked in journalism for any period of time has faced situations where an article he's working on is superseded by events prior to publication (say, Mark Warner announces he's not running for president just as a writer is putting the finishing touches on a big piece about his candidacy).

So, I'm willing to give Charles Krauthammer the benefit of the doubt and assume that today's op-ed, "The Surge: First Fruits," was largely written before yesterday's bomb attacks on the parliament building and Sarafiya bridge. There's certainly some truth to Krauthammer's optimistic reading of the surge's results to date; but citing Baghdad as one of two areas of success mere hours after the two most disturbing attacks since the surge began is, well, let's just say he might've done better to find an alternative column topic pronto. Krauthammer did manage to tuck in a "to be sure" line regarding the attacks before the piece went to press; but he might also have considered tinkering with that opening sentence accusing Democrats of being "increasingly disconnected from the realities of the war on the ground."

If the first half of the column is spectacularly ill-timed, however, the second half is sheer nonsense. In his effort to dispute that the 2006 elections suggested a voter mandate for an Iraq exit strategy, Krauthammer leaps quickly from rebuttal to rebuttal, apparently hoping that readers won't have time to recognize how sorry each claim is. Least ridiculous is his first contention, that "winning a single-vote Senate majority as a result of razor-thin victories"-- he evidently would prefer not to discuss the House--"is not a landslide." Fine, call it whatever you want; but the fact that Democrats exceeded virtually all expectations and took both houses by crushing some GOP incumbents (hello, Rick Santorum) and eking by others (George Allen) was clearly a significant political event.

From there, he sinks into laughable sophistry: "Second, if the electorate was sending an unconflicted message about withdrawal, how did the most uncompromising supporter of the war, Sen. Joe Lieberman, win handily in one of the most liberal states in the country?" Let's see, the fact that a popular three-term incumbent and recent Democratic vice presidential nominee lost his primary race against a virtually unknown challenger and managed to stay in the Senate only by running as an independent and consolidating the conservative vote from his still-more-hapless GOP opponent is evidence against voter dissatisfaction with the war? Krauthammer is counting on the word "unconflicted" to do an awful lot of work here.

"And third," he continues, "where was the mandate for withdrawal? .... [Democrats] campaigned for changing the course the administration was on last November. Which the president has done." [my itals] The surge, you see, despite its manifest unpopularity, is really what the voters were mandating during the elections. They wanted a change, Krauthammer concedes, he just doesn't think they cared in which direction. Ramping down the war? Fine. Ratcheting it up? Sure. Unilateral withdrawal? Okay. Universal conscription? Why not? Surprise us.

Krauthammer is a smart man, but at this point it's hard to tell who he thinks are stupider, the American voters or his own readers.

--Christopher Orr

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