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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

So, How Do We Get Out of This Place?

Here is the first paragraph of Ryan Lizza’s New Republic article on Kerry’s Iraq position:
Iraq has been a vexing issue for John Kerry. Every time he takes a position, the domestic political ground seems to shift under his feet. He supported the use-of-force resolution in 2002, only to find that Democratic audiences hated the war and were flocking to Howard Dean. So Kerry adjusted his rhetoric to sound more like the Vermont governor. Then, once assured of the nomination, he began tacking back to the center to court moderate, general-election voters. Now, just as much of the country is moving left on the war, Kerry has moved right. He supports more troops if commanders in the field want them and has called for a high commissioner in Iraq who can bypass the U.N. bureaucracy. What’s more, after opposing last year’s $87 billion Iraq supplemental, he is prepared to support Bush’s new $25 billion request.
That captures Kerry’s problem nicely. While he’s talking about how to stabilize Iraq responsibly and effectively, the public increasingly just wants to get the hell out. That suggests that Kerry needs to reframe his approach. It needs to be reframed as the quickest possible responsible way to get out of Iraq, not simply as the responsible way to deal with the Iraq situation, no exit date specified. Otherwise, he risks being out-of-step with rapidly shifting public opinion.
One possible way for Kerry to blend responsibility and exit strategy was suggested today by James Steinberg and Michael O’Hanlon of the oh-so-responsible Brookings Institution. In their Washington Post op-ed, “Set a Date to Pull Out“, Steinberg and O’Hanlon propose that US commit itself to terminating military operations by the end of next year, following the Iraqi elections and the adoption of a new constitution. They argue that, while the US should indicate its willingness to stay as part of some international force, that would only be at the specific request of the new Iraqi government. They further argue that, while the US should encourage a democratic, tolerant Iraq, we must be willing to accept the type of government the Iraqis themselves choose. Finally, our security interests in Iraq should be pursued through collaboration with Iraq’s neighbors and with others that share those interests, such as NATO and the UN, rather than unilaterally by ourselves.
Of course, the devil’s in the details with plans like these. But the Kerry campaign’s got to start somewhere if it hopes to surf, rather than fight, the current wave of public disaffection for the Iraq war.

21 comments on “So, How Do We Get Out of This Place?

  1. Larry on

    2’nd term runs are referendums on the incumbent. Let this crew dig themselves deeper (can’t be stopped anyway), then sod them over in November.
    Kerry should say nothing specific about Iraq.
    It’s still ‘the economy stupid’ anyway.

  2. Molly Bloom on

    “But do we want to have Kerry pull out & spend the rest of our lives taking crap from republicans accusing us of being soft on terrorism?”
    That’s one of my fears as well. Letting Bush win is not an option in my opinon. Therefore Kerry surrogates must make the point that this is a Bush, GOP fubar and point fingers and make the point as often as possible. Make GOP mean Iraq mean failure.

  3. Lawrence on

    “they know they will still be there.”
    hmmm. This is true. And there is virtually no hope that there will be a “democratic” iraqi army to hold up a government in the next ten years – even by administration estimates. My idea was that there would be something like a permanent international monitering force.
    But we would have to have a cease-fire first.
    But do we want to have Kerry pull out & spend the rest of our lives taking crap from republicans accusing us of being soft on terrorism? Better in that case if we let Bush win so that he has to take the heat.

  4. Molly Bloom on

    “I don’t like this, because it will play to the strength of the insurgents. If moderates know that the Americans are going to leave bu the insurgents are going to stay, that will hamper their ability to stick their necks out and help us and themselves.”
    They already know that eventually we are going to leave – just like Ho & Giap knew we were eventually going to leave. And as in that earlier lesson, they know they will still be there. That has always been a given. I don’t mean to be cruel, but you, Bush and the Neo Cons must be the only people who didn’t understand that little minor detail

  5. Lawrence on

    >>It seems to me that the “stay the course” position >>amounts to little more than hanging on and hoping >>things settle down somehow.
    Indeed, this is the way the Bush administration is playing it, but that is because they can’t think of any other way to handle it and keep it all for themselves.
    I can see only three possible outcomes:
    1) The Bush adminstration holds on as long as they can, taking casualties indefinitely while Halliburton squeezes as much out of it as they can. Cynically and rather blatantly, they have been publicly informing the Iraqis that they should not expect to have any control of their country for quite a while.
    2) Halliburton decides Iraq is not going to be a long term money-maker. The Bush administration declares victory and runs. The nastiest people quickly take over.
    3) The whole mess gets dumped into Kerry’s (our) lap. He goes on TV and says “we’re sorry for having been such *******s. We’ll do whatever it takes to get you to help us out with this mess.” The pain gets spread around.
    None of these options are really good, but that’s why people tell you not to run with scissors or start wars when they’re not absolutely necessary…

  6. SqueakyRat on

    What all you responsible folks seem to be overlooking is that there are some damn good reasons for “just getting the hell out,” starting with the fact that our presence in Iraq is now probably the single strongest destabilizing factor in the situation.
    People are feeling sick of it, sure, but they’re also realizing that even a very modest version of the neocon war aims is simply unachievable. We simply cannot suppress the insurgency except by taking measures that will turn ever more Iraqis against us.
    It seems to me that the “stay the course” position amounts to little more than hanging on and hoping things settle down somehow. Hardly a day has gone by that hasn’t made that outcome less likely.

  7. asdf on

    Additionally, what Andrew said.
    This is a pollster trying to make foreign policy. Best to keep your opinions on these matters to yourself, Ruy.

  8. asdf on

    I don’t like this, because it will play to the strength of the insurgents. If moderates know that the Americans are going to leave bu the insurgents are going to stay, that will hamper their ability to stick their necks out and help us and themselves.

  9. JFK on

    All this rhetoric about doing the right thing, sounds nice, but in the meantime “how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
    I have no problem with Kerry reframing himself on the issue, but in the end, he needs to blame Bush and the neo-cons and come up with some sort of “Peace with Honor” plan a la… gulp…Nixon and get us out and turn it over to Iraq. I have no problem with helping Iraq fix itself, but I see no point in staying where we are not wanted and outside of Chalabi, I don’t see that we are wanted.

  10. Marcus Lindroos on

    My question is somewhat unrelated to the Subject, but who should Kerry choose as his running mate to maximize the likelihood of winning in November? With six months to go, I think we can be almost 100% certain that Iraq is still going to look bad. The only wild cards are the discovery of vast caches of WMDs (and I don’t nean a token sarin grenade here and there) or the possible impact of another terrorist strike on U.S. soil. Conversely, the economy is probably going to look slightly better as well — unless there is another 9/11.
    It seems to me as if Kerry wouldn’t gain as much from choosing John Edwards in case the worst news is related to the Middle East rather than the economy. Kerry’s shortcomings in the “personal likability” department would also seem to matter less in case there is a general consensus the country is in a crisis. If this happens (and there is every sign the string of bad news from Iraq will continue for months), Kerry would arguably be better off by choosing a running mate who is similarly competent/experienced and probably is good at rallying the Democratic ground troops too. I think the somewhat unexciting Dick Gephardt might be ideal, or maybe some other veteran politician with excellent credentials as an anti terrorism policy wonk?

  11. frankly0 on

    Just to followup on my previous post, here’s how Kerry could position his stance: “I know many people are at a point where they are merely seeking the fastest way out of Iraq, and maybe that would be a politically popular thing to do, but I’m not going to pursue a policy that may be damaging simply because it’s good politics. We have to do the right thing here for ourselves and for the Iraqi people.”
    This could help Kerry counter one of the most rampant criticisms of him, that the does everything by first putting his finger in the wind.
    In my view, Iraq is bad news for Bush anyway you look at it, and, somewhat paradoxically, Kerry will do himself the greatest benefit even politically if he declares his own policy to be above politics.

  12. Paul C on

    I think Andrew has it exactly right. Kerry cannot and should not advocate specific tactics regarding the war. The war shifts too quickly and he will be vulnerable to charges that he is second-guessing the President during a time of war. Rather, he needs to continue to portray himself as (1) a veteren and war hero and (2) a person with years and years of foreign policy experience. He needs to speak in generalities about values based foreign policy, involving the international community and competence. When people, one by one or in droves, are convinced that W. is screwing this up to a faretheewell, they will see Kerry as a viable alternative.

  13. frankly0 on

    I pretty much agree with most of the commenters above. Kerry’s proposed treatment of Iraq should be the first example of how a GROWNUP deals with a difficult international situation, not still another example of a political football, or an ideological hobby horse.
    Here’s my view of what Kerry should do. Figure out what’s right. Do and say what’s right.
    Some reframing of his position to accommodate politics is of course reasonable, but if he positions his proposed policy as being the RESPONSIBLE, rational thing to do, one NOT subject fundamentally to polls and politics, then even politically it will be a breath of fresh air on the subject of Iraq, and foreign policy more generally.
    Beyond all the other problems of Kerry’s tacking hard on the subject of Iraq, it immediately presents a great political danger: it invites the criticism that he is, once again, doing a flip flop.
    What remains difficult about Iraq policy, even if one removes the politics of it, is that it is fundamentally hard to know what to do. The correct policy itself might easily change depending on what happens on the ground in Iraq. This would require a lot of open endedness in anything Kerry should propose.
    In my view, Kerry’s proposed policy on Iraq should be the first test of a Kerry Presidency, giving us a taste of what he would do in foreign policy, his great strength, should he become President, with the election behind him.

  14. Carole Hoerauf on

    In the early 50’s there was the Korean War…despite the satisfactory economy, Americans were frustrated by ongoing American casualties in Korea. Dwight Eisenhower made a campaign speech and said, “If elected, I shall go to Korea.”
    My father stopped in his tracks from his usual pacing, turned to my mother and me (15) and said, “There’s the election!”
    It was the election.
    Eisenhower got all but 89 electoral votes. Adlai Stevenson,
    brainy though he was considered to be, crashed and burned.
    All of the social progress and programs Kerry talks about won’t happen unless the Iraq War ends. Through both legislative giveaways to the rich and corporations and choosing this war, Republicans have succeeded in what has been their aim–“starving the beast”.

  15. Chris on

    I believe that this is called “being a grown-up”. Children are notorious for walking away from problems, it’s far easier to walk away than fix things. It pains me to agree, but Colin Powell was correct with his Pottery Barn analogy – and we broke it. As much as I’d love to see us get out of Iraq painlessly, it’s not gonna happen, it’s gonna cost us lots of money and, grievously, many more lives.
    Wouldn’t we be better off saying thus: This administration lied to us (both Congress and the public) and buffaloed into a war we didn’t need to fight against an enemy who was not a threat. Wishing it were otherwise does not change the facts in hand.
    Finally, with respect to the $25B – I don’t think that there’s any real choice about supporting it. However, there is nothing that prevents the Democrats from pressing really, really hard for adult supervision of the spending. Let the r’s try and defend the position of not holding the administration strictly responsible and accountable.

  16. soup on

    Kerry won’t get anywhere proposing a plan to unscramble Bush’s omlette. All he needs to do is point to Bush’s incompetence and remind people what he would have done different, everything from Tora Bora to the UN to WMD to military preparation to coalition building and on and on. It isn’t rocket science, you just need to get the Wastrel Son out of the White House, Duh.

  17. Julie on

    I’ve been impatient at times too with what I thought was Kerry’s lack of leadership on this issue. Not any longer. I don’t think he should offer more substantive comments on Iraq until after June 30th. Nothing good for Bush or our country will happen in Iraq before then, so, patience, let events unfold in Iraq, and more knives sharpen in DC. Let anti-occupation sentiment build. I think the American media is awake enough now not to fall back to sleep on July 1. Who can predict how July will play out in Iraq, except that it is likely to be just as bad as now? Which, I think, will dismay more of us, especially those not yet paying close attention. THEN let Kerry start speaking out.

  18. Andrew on

    This is a bizarre blog entry. The premise seems to be that Kerry’s position should be based entirely on what will fly politically rather than on what will actually work for Iraq and for our country. While I grant that he needs to present his position in a way that is politically palatable, there needs to be more too it than that.
    In addition, the problem is not just that public opinion in the US is shifting, it is that the situation in Iraq is shifting rapidly. Bush has trouble enough keeping ahead of the situation on the ground, and he has some nominal influence on it. Kerry has absolutely no power to influence events at this point. Things will change so much every week for the next six month, there is no way that any position he takes could hold water for long.
    So what should he do? He should make himself trustworthy. He should present general principals of international cooperation and values-based foreign policy. He should avoid specifics on the war (because they will go stale too quickly). In short, he should keep doing what he has been doing. Once he gets elected and takes office he can take stock of the situation and decide what actions are appropriate at that time.

  19. bill dijkman on

    they are over here, because we are over there-patrick j buchanan, the founding fathers warned of foriegn entanglments, the best way to get out of a mess is not to get in it in the first place, i haven’t voted democratic since 1987, but am so disgusted with this mess i wil hold my nose and vote for kerry, the only democratic i actually like was dean,i like john mc cain, “independents”, i think kerry can make friends with alienated former allies, bush not only angers me he frightens me, the major problem is NOT getting out of iraq, its getting the religious white out of the white house..

  20. Lawrence on

    I disagree. Although I personally was against the war from the start (taking over other countries that are going to hell within their own borders is not allowed), once we broke it, we have to see that it is fixed.
    It is the “conservatives” who have been promoting the philosophy for decades that you don’t have to take care of other people. Let them reap the whirlwind as more and more “conservatives” say “to hell with the iraqis” and call on the administration to get out.
    That leaves us as the responsible party and holding the moral high ground.
    The difference then is that the democratic party wants to give a safe Iraq back to its people whereas the republican party wants to keep Iraq for itself. And, as long as Iraq is not stable, they have an ironclad excuse for doing whatever they want with it.
    This is not a good position for democrats to find ourselves in, although it could be worse since W has proved to be such a scew-up.
    Just imagine where we would be at if he had proven to be an efficient and successful imperialist…


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