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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Iraq Debate: Which Party Will Split?

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Iraq debate in Congress later this month will revolve around a big political strategic question: which party will split?
The Democratic congressional leadership, having abandoned a bipartisan approach during the last Iraq debate, seems now inclined to return to it. It’s unclear at this point whether this calculation is aimed at producing a Republican split (via a non-binding resolution urging a change of strategy in Iraq and an immediate drawdown of troops), or avoiding Democratic defections from a more hard-line stance of denying appropriations without a withdrawal commitment and timeline.
Whatever it represents, the leadership strategy is producing some serious blowback among antiwar Democrats generally and the progressive blogosphere specifically, as the Kos post linked to above reflects.
And the question wll inevitably be reflected in the presidential contest, though last time around, four of the five candidates who had to vote on the May Iraq suppmental appropriations bill (a.k.a. in blogger parlance, the “Iraq capitulation bill”) voted “no,” with Joe Biden the conspicuous exception.
Perhaps because this issue isn’t producing much clash in the presidential debate, wary antiwar Democrats continue to focus on a separate issue: how many “residual” troops do Democratic candidates plan to leave in Iraq even after the conventional combat troops are withdrawn?
In that connection, Chris Bowers at OpenLeft has put up two very useful posts, the first slicing and dicing the Democratic candidates’ positions on post-combat-troop-withdrawal “residuals,” and the second analyzing a poll showing that rank-and-file Democratic perceptions of the candidates’ Iraq withdrawal plans aren’t necessarily accurate. But aside from their informational value, Chris’ posts will help reinforce an emerging blogospheric CW that Bill Richardson’s rise into double digits in IA and NH is attributable to his obsessive talk about the “residuals” issue, and could produce a shift towards a more categorical get-out-of-Iraq posture from Edwards and Obama, if not HRC.
Getting back to the congressional debate, the growing netroots anger at the congressional leadership’s bipartisan talk about Iraq is complicating the “Bush Dog” campaign–begun by OpenLeft’s Matt Stoller–to isolate, intimidate, and in certain cases “primary” Democrats unwilling to challenge Bush to the maximum extent on Iraq and on FISA. Will Harry Reid eventually be labeled a “Bush Dog?” Will Nancy Pelosi? And if so, then what does that say about the authority to identify party orthodoxy and heresy?
Here’s hoping the Iraq debate does not go in this direction. As most Democratic commentators would agree, all but a few Democratic Members of Congress, and all of our presidential candidates, would deal with Iraq in a decisively different way than Bush or any of the Republican presidential candidates (other than Ron Paul). Just last night, we saw a GOP candidate debate in which one of the decisive moments was an argument as to whether the Bush “surge” was simply improving the security situation, or instead portended Final Victory. And the Final Victory advocate was adjuged as winning the debate.
Within the limits of acknowledging the basic and abiding differences of Ds and Rs on Iraq,, it’s obviously legitimate to choose between Democratic presidential candidates on their specific Iraq plans, which do differ.
But whatever Democrats can do to keep this month’s Iraq debate focused on Bush and the GOP, rather than themselves, would be very helpful in the fight to rid America of its horrific current management.

2 comments on “The Iraq Debate: Which Party Will Split?

  1. Paul Neef on

    As long as the Republicans maintain that the war needs “to be won”, as long as the Democrats maintain that the war must be ended, and as long as the war can be kept going until election day, a Democrat will win the presidency.
    That is the magical formula.
    Should the war be ended beforehand, any other outcome is possible.
    In light of that interdependence, the “saying” is one thing -and the “doing”, in order to maintain the functionality of the above formula, is an entirely other.

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  2. John Raymond on

    There is an alternative to caving on Iraq war funding, a way that moves us toward the withdrawal of all U.S. troops even if funding for the war is approved: requiring, as a provision of the funding, that Iraq hold a referendum on whether and for how long the U.S. occupation should continue. With Iraqi sentiment so much against the occupation, it would be passed overwhelmingly, and would probably lead to a withdrawal within a year of all U.S. troops. It may be our last, and best, chance to stop this war before the 2008 election. And it’s a solid alternative to (1) the “residential troops” with no fixed end date popular among Democratic presidential candidates, and (2) the approach popular among centrists in Congress, of withdrawing some troops before 2009.
    Not only would this be supported by antiwar Democrats in Congress, it should also get the support of moderate Democrats and, crucially, Republicans. A little-noticed poll of Republicans found that 67 percent would support withdrawing if the majority of Iraqis asked us to do so. With the Bush administration’s rhetorical support for democracy in Iraq and the Middle East more generally, it will be very hard for them to oppose or even veto such legislation. And, after an Iraqi vote supporting withdrawal, support for the war would collapse across the political spectrum.
    The first step is to split the supplemental into two parts—one to last through March, and then funding for withdrawal. Republicans have talked about “reconsidering” the issue in April (when, coincidentally, the surge deployment must end). Democrats should support only a two-stage supplemental, and the blogosphere can help make this a bottom line. The first six months’ funding bill would require or strongly urge the Iraqis to hold an election within that six-month time period. By the time the second six-month supplemental comes up for a vote, the Iraqi vote will have paved the way for a fully funded withdrawal.
    I assume that Congress will pass the Iraq War supplemental, and that Bush will get his funding. Let’s make it a vote that moves us toward approval of a fully vote withdrawal starting in six months, rather than a cave-in.
    This idea has been raised before in a few places but I am the first person that I know of to fully explore how such a vote could occur and what its political effects should be. I am a 25-year student of peace movements and a sometime participant (for example, I taught one of the first college classes in the country, in 1981, on the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War). For a copy of the in-depth proposal, which will be completed Monday, e-mail me at jraymond@ojai.net.

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