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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Iraq and Democrats: Now What?

With the failure in the Senate of a long series of amendments aimed at forcing a change of strategy on Iraq, we’re on the cusp of what looks likely to be a fractious intraparty debate among Democrats about what to do now. Though many antiwar activists have long feared that congressional Democrats will retreat to some sort of toothless bipartisan resolution urging Bush to change his unchangeable mind on Iraq, there’s actually little or no sentiment on either side of the partisan aisle for such an approach. But on the other hand, there’s no particular reason to think that repeating the maneuvering Congress went through with Bush in May–passing a war appropriations bill with a deadline, and inviting a presidential veto without the votes to override it–would turn out differently in the end.
Still, as a new post from McJoan at DailyKos makes clear, it looks like a netroots-based campaign to demand a return to a no-appropriations-without-a-binding-deadline strategy is about to get fully underway, with a lot of the pressure coming not only from rank-and-file Democrats but from presidential candidates. Dodd, Richardson and Edwards have been demanding this approach for months; Barack Obama signed on to such an effort last week; and with Hillary Clinton still to be heard from (though she voted against the post-veto funding bill earlier in the year), only Joe Biden has rejected it.
Moreover, advocacy of this harder-line strategy overlaps significantly, in the netroots and among the candidates,with efforts to get Democrats to abandon any commitment to a residual troop presence in Iraq (with Obama and Clinton, and to a lesser extent Edwards, the targets of that effort).
While it’s important not to completely conflate the no-funding and no-residuals campaigns (I am sure there are other Dems beyond Obama who favor one but not the other), advocates of both do tend to make the same political argument: that Democrats must more sharply distinguish themselves from Republican on the war to maintain confidence–in the Democratic “base,” among antiwar independents, or in the electorate generally–that they represent “change” on Iraq as on other issues. This dovetails with a less political argument that Democrats have a moral obligation to make every effort to stop the war prior to the 2008 elections, and to ensure if they win that the war is ended firmly, finally and quickly. And both sets of arguments, political and moral, on funding and residuals, coincide with a widely held belief–articulated this week by Dr. Drew Westen at of all places The New Republic–that taking a hard line on the war in all its aspects is the only “emotionally compelling” approach that will excorcise the ghosts of past Democratic surrenders to Bush.
There are a lot of assumptions about public opinion on Iraq and on the Democratic Party underlying the maximum-confrontation point of view, and I’ll address them in a later post. Suffice it to say that today three-fifths to two-thirds of Americans continue to oppose Bush’s war policies, even after the Petraeus Week shenanigans, while support for a no-funding or no-residuals position is clearly lower, but very difficult to measure.
But there are two fundamental questions Democrats need to ask themselves before falling on each other in anger on the subject of what to do now about Iraq. Are no-funding or no-residuals hardliners ready to deal with the consequences of the Democratic divisions likely to emerge from such internal fights, including “Bush beats Democrats again” and “Democrats in disarray” headlines? And do those Democrats who oppose them have a better idea other than praying that election day gets here fast?

One comment on “Iraq and Democrats: Now What?

  1. PrahaPartizan on

    “Bush beats Democrats again” and “Democrats in Disarray” arise because the Democratic leadership lets Bush beat Democrats and aren’t keeping the Democrats in Congress in line. I just don’t see any strategic sense coming out of the Democratic leadership on how to use the Congressional process at all. They continuously allow themselves to be rolled and stiffed by the Republicans. After repeated procedural failures, perhaps they should all just be retired anyway because of incompetence. In a business setting this crowd would definitely be rated in the lowest decile and qualify for dismissal. How long can you hide incompetence at this level? I guess we’ll soon find out.


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