As your probably know, George W. Bush did another “big speech” on Iraq at the Naval Academy today, accompanied by the release of a big, fat document outlining a “victory strategy.” Going into the speech, there were two distinct schools of thought in the Washington buzz about what Bush would likely do: (1) just another repackaging of the “trust us, we’re winning” message, along with attacks on Bush’s critics, and an effort to ascribe “cut and run” as the official Democratic stance; or (2) a full-fledged flip-flop, along the lines of the famous 2002 Homeland Security maneuver, towards the prevailing Democratic (and increasingly, Senate Republican) “benchmarked withdrawal” position, along with attacks on Bush’s critics, and an effort to ascribe “cut and run” as the official Democratic stance. Having quickly read the speech, and the “strategy document,” my gut reaction is that Bush wound up coming in between these two poles, with the speech tending towards (1) and the actual policy details towards (2). What’s increasingly clear is that the administration is going to begin withdrawing troops, probably beginning with a “downsurge” of the “upsurged” pre-Iraqi-election deployment, by the beginning of the year. Larger withdrawals will happen at some propitious moment next year, unless all hell breaks loose, more because of internal military manpower limitations than because of any real strategy. The Pentagon has already begun shifting towards a less visible role for U.S. troops in going after the insurgents, as administration critics have been demanding for some time now. And at every step of the way, the Bushies will relentlessly claim this is how it was all planned to work out from the beginning, and that Bush’s Democratic critics are the primary obstacle to the task of achieving benchmarks for success and troop withdrawals. This whole emerging scenario creates a complicated set of challenges for Democrats. Some responses are pretty easy: Bush’s speech didn’t really reflect the change of course indicated in the “strategy document,” and to the extent that the American and Iraqi people aren’t likely to download the 35-page tome, he didn’t send the requisite signals of an adjustment to reality. And how can anybody trust him to get this right when he can’t admit specific mistakes, and won’t fire the people–most especially Rumsfeld–responsible for making the post-invasion situation so horrible? But beyond that, there is arguably an administration shift in strategy underway, albeit awkward, defensive, and mendacious, and Democrats have to decide pretty quickly if they want to deny the change, take credit for it, or shift their own position to demand a quicker withdrawal to maintain “partisan differentiation.”Regular readers of this blog probably know I don’t like the last response; you should never, on both moral and political grounds, let the opposition dictate your own position, and in any event, anyone at this stage of American political history who doesn’t think Ds and Rs have different policy agendas is clearly not a likely voter. Questioning, if not denying, the change is clearly appropriate. Demanding further documentation of the apparent shift in administration strategy towards Iraq, given all the past lies and mistakes, is undoubtedly the right thing to do. And demanding the head of Don Rumsfeld might not be a bad idea either. But we do need to be open to the option of loudly claiming that Democrats, not to mention the American people, have forced the administration to adjust their strategy, and must continue to keep the pressure on until the facts on the ground in Iraq really change. Bush and the GOP won’t acknowledge it; the MSM may not even “get it”; so it’s up to us to make some noise and keep up the heat, but without some short-sighted panicky rush to find a position diametrically opposed to Bush’s, whether or not it’s the right thing to do from a national interest or even political point of view. We don’t have a lot of time to figure this out, so let’s get on with it.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Aside from having major implications for individual rights and perhaps for the Democratic Party, the current abortion fight may also affect the future of individual politicians, one of whom I wrote about at New York:
Vice-presidents of the United States are captive to their boss’s interests and the assignments they are willing to delegate. This has been particularly true of the current vice-president, Kamala Harris. She’s in the shadow of a generally unpopular president who has at best a shaky grip on his own party (most Democrats hope those negative characterizations of Joe Biden will soon be out of date, but they remain accurate right now). And as my colleague Gabriel Debenedetti recently explained, Harris has been unlucky with the thankless jobs Biden has given her:
“Her popularity started sinking when she first visited Central America and appeared dismissive of a suggestion that she visit the border. Behind the scenes, she was worried the assignment to take on the migrant crisis was a clear political loser … Her other top priority — voting rights — was no less publicly frustrating when the administration’s preferred legislation predictably failed in the split Senate. Some close to her wonder why she didn’t muscle her way into leading more popular projects: implementation of the COVID-relief-bill spending or, later, the infrastructure package.”
But now Harris’s luck may have finally turned: She is emerging as the Biden administration’s chief champion of abortion rights at a time when they are uniquely in danger and when Democrats everywhere are seizing on the issue as a potential game changer in 2022 and beyond. It’s an issue that fits her far better than it does the president, an old-school Irish Catholic politician who until mid-2019 opposed federal funding for abortions and could not bring himself even to say the word abortion. Harris is an entirely credible and consistent advocate for reproductive rights, as the Los Angeles Times noted:
“Taking command in the battle over abortion’s future, now largely being fought in the states and as an issue in the November election, comports neatly with Harris’ political résumé, touching on her experience as the first woman elected to the second-highest post in the nation and as a former California attorney general and U.S. senator with a longstanding interest in maternal health.”
It’s also worth noting that the women most immediately and harshly affected by the anti-abortion legislation racing toward enactment in red states are people of color, Black and Asian American women like Harris. And although many other federal and state Democrats will command a portion of the bright spotlight on this topic, Harris uniquely can call on the unparalleled megaphone of the White House, which reaches all states with highly diverse abortion landscapes. Per the Times:
“’We need a leader on this. No one knows who’s the head of Planned Parenthood,’ said Montana state Sen. Diane Sands, an abortion rights activist since the 1960s and one of many Democratic lawmakers and advocates who have met with Harris in recent weeks.”
Most of all, the abortion-rights battle offers Harris something her 2020 presidential campaign lacked: a passionate constituency with national reach, as the Washington Post observes: “She faces considerable pressure to show that her political skills have improved since that effort, which collapsed before a single primary vote was cast.” Yes, she has the famously combative “KHive” Twitter army ready to throw down on her behalf at a moment’s notice, but she could use a showing of excitement in the non-virtual world of left-of-center grassroots activists too. No issue is more starkly partisan than abortion post-Dobbs; within the Democratic Party, there is no real downside to pro-choice militancy.
What would really benefit Harris politically, of course, would be evidence that the abortion issue can stop or significantly mitigate the red wave so many Democrats fearfully glimpse on the horizon of the November elections. If abortion rights turn out to be not simply an energizer for the Democratic Party’s progressive base but a wedge issue that can bring back the suburban gains and heavy youth turnout of the 2018 midterms, it could help give Harris’s prospects a significant boost.
This development for Harris couldn’t arrive at a better time. Biden’s rapidly approaching 80th birthday is very likely to revive pressure on him to retire at the end of his first term. At this point, even though Harris is the heir apparent as vice-president, it’s unclear whether she has enough political juice to head off powerful rivals for the 2024 nomination. Nothing would make her more powerful as a presidential contender than to have not just Biden’s blessing but a reputation for fighting on an issue of crucial importance to progressive politics and the people it aims to represent.