The headline, when I saw it early this afternoon, nearly knocked me out of my chair: “Iraqi leaders call on U.S. to set withdrawal schedule.” And the text of the story, reporting that an Iraqi government (and Arab League) sponsored “unity conference” of Sunnis and Shi’a in Cairo had called for a “timetable” for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops–accompanied by a sunny statement from the Iraqi Interior Minister saying it could happen by the end of next year–was even more startling. After spending months arguing with my fellow Democrats over the arcana of a “benchmarked withdrawal” as opposed to a “timetable withdrawal,” my initial reaction was: Hell, that settles it for me.And I’m not the only one who reacted this way. Kos said: “Every person that opposes a US withdrawal timetable is now operating in direct opposition to the wishes of the Iraqi government.”But when you drill a bit deeper into the news from Cairo, you discover that the “unity statement” did not specify any dates for the immediate, intermediate, or ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops. In other words, it called for a “timetable” without “times.” In that respect, it tracked the Democratic Iraq resolution that was defeated in the U.S. Senate last week, which used the symbolic “T-word” without specifying any dates, though it did call on the administration to announce “estimated dates” for withdrawals based on the anticipated achievement of “benchmarks.” (The successful Republican-sponsored resolution was nuanced to the point of sophistry: it urged the administration to announce a “schedule” for withdrawals, based on “benchmarks,” but avoided the “T-word,” which the administration tried to spin as a gigantic victory).I have no clue whether these words have the same meaning in Arabic as in English, but I do know that train timetables are a pretty universal phenomenon. Whether you are in Washington or in Baghdad, when you consult a “timetable,” you don’t want to discover that your train will leave the station at some point after it has arrived, when the equipment and the crew are ready and the passengers are loaded.One thing, and perhaps only one thing, is clear: up until now, the Bush administration has refused to acknowledge, much less embrace, any specific scheme of “benchmarks” for withdrawal of U.S. troops, beyond its general bromides that we’ll leave when “the job is done” and when “Iraqis are able to provide their own security.” And despite widespread hints that the Pentagon is already planning significant troop withdrawals next year, the Bushies have not only refused to talk about any “schedule” for withdrawal; they have in fact demonized anyone who tried to force them to do so.Presumably, that line of argument ended today. After all, 85 U.S. Senators (if you count those who voted for either Senate resolution last week) called for a benchmarked withdrawal and for the idea, if not the specifics, of a timetable or a schedule or whatever you wish to call it. Now the Iraqi government and a wide-ranging coalition of Iraqi political factions have done the same.Moreover, and this is probably the implicit compromise achieved in Cairo, everybody understands that the first big “benchmark” is the December elections in Iraq. If they are successful in creating a popularly-backed permanent government, with significant support from Arab Sunnis, then it will become a lot easier to talk about real “timetables” for the withdrawal of U.S.troops.In terms of domestic U.S. politics, the only problem then will be to deal with the likely administration flip-flop, whereby Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld suddenly embrace and even take credit for this development, while still attacking those who were “prematurely” calling for withdrawals, benchmarked or timed. But hey, that’s a small price to pay for the possibility that we can get out of Iraq soon, without encouraging a civil war or a permanent terrorist outpost. It’s not as though Bush’s record is clean on Iraq even if he does draw down troops quickly, and his and his party’s record on absolutely everything else richly deserves more attention.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.