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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Bush’s “Victory Strategy”

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.

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