Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Democrats' moment on Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Our must-read of the day today (because it provokes a reaction, if nothing else) comes from Post columnist David Ignatius, who challenges Democrats not merely to celebrate the findings of the recently declassified NIE -- as I did here -- but to come up with a viable plan for dealing with Iraq. Make sure to read the whole piece, but here are a couple of key passages:

This should be the Democrats' moment, if they can translate the national anger over Iraq into a coherent strategy for that country. But with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats are mostly ducking the hard question of what to do next...

America needs to reckon with the message of the National Intelligence Estimate. Iraq has compounded Muslim rage and created a dangerous crisis for the United States. The Democrats understandably want to treat Iraq as George Bush's war and wash their hands of it. But the damage of Iraq can be mitigated only if it again becomes the nation's war -- with the whole country invested in finding a way out of the morass that doesn't leave us permanently in greater peril. If the Democrats could lead that kind of debate about security, they would become the nation's governing party. But what you hear from most Democrats these days is: Gotcha.

Yes, and I said "Gotcha" myself, more or less -- just as I have many times before. But that isn't enough. The point is not just to bring down Bush and the Republicans but to provide alternative Democratic leadership. What if Democrats take back either the House or the Senate (or both)? What if they take back the White House in '08? What then? Winning is one thing. Governing is quite another. Americans need to know that Democrats provide more than just change. They need to know that Democrats are fully prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Yes, that means dealing with Iraq, a war that Bush started and the Republicans have supported, but it also means finding a way out of Iraq and re-focusing attention on the real threats to national security.

I have confidence in the Democrats, far more than Ignatius, who blames them for not having enough of a plan when the blame ought to be levelled at Bush and Bush alone. Besides, there are Democratic plans out there already, and not just from Joe Biden.

This is indeed the Democrats' moment. But they'll need to win first. It's awfully hard to govern when the Republicans control both Congress and the White House. Isn't that right, Mr. Ignatius?

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A good response to Ignatius comes from Kevin Drum:

I agree that allowing Iraq to spiral into civil war would be a disaster, but it's telling that Ignatius doesn't propose any solutions himself aside from a vague allusion to the possibility of federalism and partitioning — an idea that's been floating around liberal foreign policy circles for the past couple of years but has gone nowhere because it has no traction either among Republicans or among Iraqis themselves...

[T]o blame Democrats now for not being aggressive enough in trying to trisect this angle is like blaming Gerald Ford for losing Vietnam. George Bush fought this war precisely the way he wanted, with precisely the troops he wanted, and with every single penny he asked for. He has kept Don Rumsfeld in charge despite abundant evidence that he doesn't know how to win a war like this. He has mocked liberals and the media at every turn when they suggested we might need a different approach. The result has been a disaster with no evident solution left.

It may be the Democrats' moment -- if they win, that is -- but there may be no obvious way to clean up Bush's mess short of a lesser-of-the-evils approach. The Democrats may not have the answer, the plan, but, if they win, don't blame them when things don't go right. Remember who started the whole goddamned mess in the first place.

(See also Taylor Marsh, Tristero, and Matt Yglesias.)

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