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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ambiguities of War

Now that the Senate’s had its debate on Iraq policy, the GOP spinmeisters are working overtime to draw attention to Democratic divisions. It’s true there’s a difference of opinion between the 13 senators who voted for the Kerry-Feingold fixed deadline resolution and the rest of the Caucus. But in the end, all but six Senate Dems voted for the Levin resolution calling for a beginning of troop withdrawals by the end of this year and demanding some sort of public strategy for the Iraq endgame.I have to strongly disagree with my colleague The Moose, who characterized the Levin resolution as “withdrawal lite.” Last year a majority of senators from both parties voted for a resolution calling 2006 “a year of transition” for the U.S. military presence in Iraq, which means some troop withdrawals. The administration’s own position is that we should all look forward to troop withdrawals as soon as is possible; the Bushies simply want to keep their plans a secret until that first photo op of soldiers and marines coming home, probably right before the November elections. And this is not just a matter of focusing exclusively on U.S. needs: it’s clear Iraqis overwhelmingly want a tangible indication that the build-up of Iraqi security forces, which will soon meet its original targets, will produce a reduction in the U.S. military presence, if not a full withdrawal.The idea that the Levin resolution represents some sort of party-wide tilt to the antiwar cause strikes me as simply wrong. Nobody can accuse, say, Sen. Hillary Clinton of being unwilling to upset a large number of Democratic activists by remaining committed to the possibility of a successful conclusion to the horribly botched Iraq occupation. Yet she was a cosponsor of the Levin resolution and spoke forcefully for it in the Senate (as did DLC Vice Chairman Sen. Tom Carper).It’s certainly true that the Levin resolution is worded in an ambiguous way, leaving open the timetable for withdrawal depending on conditions in Iraq. But the situation on the ground in Iraq is ambiguous as well. Our military leadership is clearly ambiguous about our future role in Iraq. For all its happy-talk, the administration is ambiguous about the political stability of Iraq. And the American people–a majority of whom favor a decisive shift towards Iraqi responsibility for Iraq’s security, even as they oppose a quick withdrawal–are about as ambiguous as you can get.In the end, the Levin resolution reflected a simple call for a change of course and a strategy for moving towards the goal we all share: an end to this war. A large majority of Senate Democrats supported it. And I am personally convinced Republicans will rue the day when they decided to draw even greater public attention to the Bush administration’s record in Iraq, and the GOP’s united support for its incompetent leadership. They’re just not as crafty as they think they are.

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