The intellectual landscape is littered with sensible-sounding, well-argued plans for dealing with Iraq.
Some experts talk about working harder to secure the country's borders; others favor a new emphasis on economic development; still others call for partitioning the country. The list of plausible alternatives goes on and on.
The theoretical debate, to be sure, is worth having. But for the past couple years, American politicians have faced one real-world question about Iraq that overwhelms all the others.
Either they've believed that the President, his history of fecklessness and bad judgment notwithstanding, should be given more or less free rein to formulate and execute America's policy; or they've believed he needs to be confronted and reined in.
There are other important questions--granted. But all of them flow from this one.
Because the views of clear-headed experts and well-meaning policy wonks are, sadly, beside the point. The cold political reality is: As long as there are enough red state, Bush-aligned Republicans in congress to sustain a veto of any Iraq legislation the President doesn't like--a situation that continues to this day--the options on Iraq are confined to those that George W. Bush can live with.
And so, with George W. Bush in the drivers seat, politicians have been faced with a stark choice: Either continue to politely ask him to drive a bit less recklessly or use every lever of power you have to try to pry the keys from his hands.
It's been literally that simple.
And over more than four years, Sen. Collins has consistently put herself in the camp of those who believe that the President needs to be cajoled rather than confronted.
Sure, she's voiced qualms now and then. But there is no evidence--at least none I'm aware of--that any of her misgivings have influenced administration policy on Iraq.
And when the time has come to turn those misgivings into action, Collins has balked. In vote after vote, she's stood with George W. Bush, giving him maximum leverage to conduct war policy as he's seen fit.
Don't get me wrong: That approach was defensible for a while--till, let's say, early 2005. Not everyone saw (as Rep. Allen did) that our Iraq adventure was destined to be a disaster from the start.
But at a certain point, the weight of the evidence that the Bush administration was fundamentally dysfunctional and that George W. Bush was utterly out of his depth became overpowering.
And at that point, those supporting him on Iraq were no longer just guilty of wishful thinking. They were enabling--and participating in--a political, economic, diplomatic, humanitarian and human catastrophe of staggering proportions.
That was the time for people of good will to stand up. (And many of us thought the Colin Powells and Arlen Specters and Susan Collinses in the Republican party would stand up).
That was when giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt became an act of political malpractice. And that was when senators and house members who failed to use their public platforms--and their votes--to confront the administration became guilty of moral cowardice.
Maine's junior senator is on the wrong side of those divides. When the stakes were high, when the crisis arrived, she failed the test.
And for that reason, more than any other, she needs to be sent packing.
UPDATE: I think the original post is accurate as far as it goes, but I wish I'd been clearer on one point.
Namely, the reason for pols to confront and oppose the President isn't simply to shame him, or as an empty protest.
Instead, since the options on Iraq are confined to those that George W. Bush can live with, the point of confrontation is to generate enough political pressure on the President so that he's forced to widen the universe of options he can live with.
In other words, to force him toward a saner approach.