Monday, December 18, 2006

Reid's risky strategy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I was not initially amused to read over the weekend that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "offered qualified support Sunday for a plan to increase U.S. troops in Iraq," according to the AP. After all, it's one thing for Silvestre Reyes to come out in favour of an increase, quite another for the Senate's top Democrat to do so. But Reid does not support an increase just for the sake of an increase, that is, for an unqualified increase, which is what differentiates his position from, say, John McCain's. For Reid, an increase "would be acceptable as part of a broader strategy to bring combat forces home by 2008".

Over at State of the Day, our co-blogger Creature refuses to give Reid "the benefit of the doubt," and he might well be right to remain suspicious of Reid's true intent: "It's exactly how the Democrats capitulated in '02 and allowed this insane war to move forward in the first place. Give Bush & Cheney an inch and they will take a mile. They will escalate now and they will escalate again tomorrow. They will escalate until their term is up."

But I wonder. Perhaps AMERICAblog's John Aravosis is right:

At first I was a bit concerned that Reid was endorsing John McCain's plan to increase troop levels by tens of thousands. More troops is not the answer. And letting McCain off the hook by endorsing his plan wouldn't strike me as wise. But, Reid may not be endorsing McCain's plan at all. He may be forcing Bush and McCain to endorse his.

Reid may be using the troop increase as a backdoor way of getting a firm commitment to end our combat engagement in Iraq by 2008. By giving our commanders on the ground what they want -- if in fact they want more troops -- Reid and the Democrats are seen as supporting our commanders rather than undercutting the war effort, and ultimately being blamed by the Republicans for losing the war. But at the same time, Reid is giving our generals, and our commander in chief, one last change to fix things. And if they don't, we're out of there -- the public will know that Bush has lost this war, Harry Reid gave him a fair shot, and it was the Democrats that finally got our troops home safely.

If this is indeed Reid's strategy, it's a risky one. It could help Democrats to look tough now, but looking tough means giving Bush and the warmongers, including McCain, what they want. And what if, down the road, a troop increase is disconnected from withdrawal? That is, what if withdrawal doesn't follow a troop increase? Then we're right back in 2002, when Democrats signed off on Bush's militaristic intentions with respect to Iraq. Democrats supported the president, Republicans have been able to say, most notably in 2004, when John Kerry's opposition to the war was overshadowed to some extent by his initial support for the war. Would not Republicans say the same thing now if Democrats were to sign off on a troop increase? Reid may want to tie support for an increase to a guarantee on withdrawal, but why should anyone trust Bush to follow through on such a quid pro quo? He has hardly done anything to earn such trust.

Which brings me back to Creature's point. Give 'em an inch...

Reid seems to be willing to take the risk. Perhaps other Democrats are, too. Have they learned nothing? Or, having learned from the past, from what happened in 2002, do they know what they're getting themselves into?

If this strategy is pursued -- and I am hesitant to say that it ought to be, but perhaps it ought to be considered further -- it must be done so with the utmost caution and without a firm commitment yet. Democrats must have an exit strategy from such a risky strategy. It is the only way to protect themselves from another Republican trap.

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