Wednesday, August 22, 2007

 

Twists and Turns

Political pundits argue over left or right bias in mainstream media (MSM) outlets, tongue in cheek or otherwise, mostly for effect. Fact is, many of us appreciate the fact that one MSM outlet can be counted on for insider CIA leaks, another for unauthorized but very organizationally sponsored State Department disclosures, others for hardball gossip, campaign dirt, and so on.

We really don’t mind knowing in advance that the Editorial Board of the NY Times, for example, will find a way to totally confound the facts of their own news reporting, or that outlets like The Nation or The New Republic will be susceptible to distorted, agenda-driven, (or fabulist) war diarists. It’s helpful to know what side everybody’s on.

As a sometime exception to this phenomena, The Washington Post stands as the premier (hometown) Capitol Daily. Perhaps in deference to their exalted position with American political journalism, they can’t always be counted on to tack in parallel with their otherwise left- and Dem-leaning compatriots. There are political winds for outsiders, and there are the winds in DC. They don’t always channel in the same jet stream.

What else to make of the Washington Post’s political analysis today, making the claim that Democrats Refocus Message on Iraq After Military Gains?

The Post captures recent political re-posturing in its proper context:

Democratic leaders in Congress had planned to use August recess to raise the heat on Republicans to break with President Bush on the Iraq war. Instead, Democrats have been forced to recalibrate their own message in the face of recent positive signs on the security front, increasingly focusing their criticisms on what those military gains have not achieved: reconciliation among Iraq's diverse political factions.

And now the Democrats, along with wavering Republicans, will face an advertising blitz from Bush supporters determined to remain on offense. A new pressure group, Freedom's Watch, will unveil a month-long, $15 million television, radio and grass-roots campaign today designed to shore up support for Bush's policies before the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, lays out a White House assessment of the war's progress. [Ed., remember too, the Vets for Freedom 10 Weeks to Testimony Campaign.] The first installment of Petraeus's testimony is scheduled to be delivered before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a fact both the administration and congressional Democrats say is simply a scheduling coincidence.

The leading Democratic candidates for the White House have fallen into line with the campaign to praise military progress while excoriating Iraqi leaders for their unwillingness to reach political accommodations that could end the sectarian warfare.

So it’s not a failure of our military effort, but rather a failure in civilian political leadership? What does that sound like? Democrats in Congress, perhaps? How we won the war militarily in Vietnam, only to abandon our allies and hand our defeated enemies an unearned victory? [Ed., Who else is talking that way about Vietnam today?]

The Post explains what the political repositioning is meant to achieve (or avoid) for the Democrats:

For Democratic congressional leaders, the dog days of August are looking anything but quiet. Having failed twice to crack GOP opposition and force a major change in war policy, Democrats risk further alienating their restive supporters if the September showdown again ends in stalemate. House Democratic leaders held an early morning conference call yesterday with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), honing a new message: Of course an influx of U.S. troops has improved security in Iraq, but without any progress on political reconciliation, the sweat and blood of American forces has been for naught.

This has all been about message and political advantage. Yet we are to believe the Democrats are more seriously interested in National Security and our National Interests than their naked political ambitions. The Post goes on to paint a clear picture a very aggressive, one might say, desperate effort underway:

The burst of effort has been striking, if only because Democrats left for their August recess confident that Republicans would be on the defensive by now. Instead, the GOP has gone on the attack. The new privately funded ad campaign, to run in 20 states, features a gut-level appeal from Iraq war veterans and the families of fallen soldiers, pleading: "It's no time to quit. It's no time for politics."

"For people who believe in peace through strength, the cavalry is coming," said Ari Fleischer, a former Bush White House press secretary who is helping to head Freedom's Watch.

GOP leaders have latched on to positive comments from Democrats -- often out of context -- to portray the congressional majority as splintering. Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), an Armed Services Committee member who is close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said many of her colleagues learned a hard lesson from the Republican campaign.

"I don't know of anybody who isn't desperately supportive of the military," she said. "People want to say positive things. But it's difficult to say positive things in this environment and not have some snarky apologist for the White House turn it into some clipped phraseology that looks like support for the president's policies."

Dan Riehl analyzes use of the phrase “desperately supportive of the military,” in the quote above. Everyone agrees about the desperation involved, merely arguing over which political position is the more hopeless.

Ralph Peters, writing in the NY Post, describes the Reliberation of Iraq that GEN Petraeus has orchestrated:

Long the deadly base of al Qaeda in Iraq, Anbar province has gone from hundreds of daily attempted attacks on our troops to four earlier this week. Iraqis assume ever more responsibility for their own security. And former enemies are rallying to fight beside us, instead of against us.

How did the general and the troops under his command achieve such rapid progress? He lays out a model: "The Re-Liberation of Iraq," this time from a new wave of oppressors, the terrorists, insurgents and militias.

Petraeus acknowledges the errors made in the early occupation years, stressing, above all, the failure to provide security for the population. We cleaned out the violent actors from one city after another, but failed to stay and set the conditions for political and economic progress. When we left, the bad guys came back - and killed anybody who had cooperated with us.

Now, through the efficient use of American troops and a greatly increased employment of Iraqi forces, we're taking an approach that allows for fighting fiercely when necessary, but which looks beyond the gunfights.

(snip)

What will be the test of a worthy Iraqi government to Gen. Petraeus? "A government representative of and responsive to the people . . . at all levels."

Can Iraq get there, after all its recent travails and struggling under the weight of history? Petraeus insists that "we're realistic." He believes that Iraq has a fighting chance. But he refuses to predict miracles.

That said, the general himself looks like the miracle Iraq needed. If that country ultimately fails - if Iraqis fail themselves - it won't be the fault of David Petraeus and our men and women in uniform.

Memeorandum links to a veritable Greek Chorus in this insider’s would be drama, quickly sampled in the refrains below:

Brian Faughnan, writing in the Weekly Standard Blog, Rahm Emanuel: Democrats are Immune to Facts in Iraq:

If Democratic leaders now declare that the surge was never going to be given a chance to succeed, the American people would be right to ask why they agreed to commit American blood and treasure to it in the first place. Can Americans have any faith in the leadership of a party that would consent to a plan such as Operation Phantom Thunder, then attempt to pull the rug out just as it was seeming to work? What does the Democratic party have to offer in the war on terror if they refuse to take advantage of a chance for victory on a battlefield that Osama bin Laden regards as the central front in the war against the West?

Gaius at Blue Crab Boulevard, Democrats On The Defensive The Washington Post reports …

I have maintained all along that the Democratic leadership in Congress badly misread the results of the 2006 elections. They were not given a mandate to lose a war. But they chose to read it that way. It should be fairly obvious that members of Congress are hearing - loud and clear - from their constituencies that they do not want the war lost. Otherwise you would not see this kind of backpedaling. And no matter how they try to dress it up, they are backpedaling furiously.

One thing that is incredibly ironic about the whole situation is the sudden shift toward criticizing Iraqi politicians for doing nothing. Given the fact that our Congress under Democratic leadership is pretty well doing nothing, I don't think that is a really great tactic for the Democrats.

Sister Toldjah, Thanks to Iraq successes, Democrats having to "refocus" their Iraq message

Petraeus’ report next month will probably be the most anticipated report since David Kay’s WMD report. Rest assured that the anti-war contingent already have their arguments against a continued prescence in Iraq ready, regardless of what Petraeus reports. As we know all too well, their main goal from the get go has been failure in Iraq, to ‘prove’ that they were right about the President’s ‘wrongness/lies,’ and they’ve done so in hopes that a loss in Iraq would/can do maximum damage not just to him, but Republicans and “traitor” Democrats who supported the Iraq war.

It’s going to be interesting in the coming weeks and months to see how Democrats try to balance showing ’support for the troops and their successes’ with the anti-war ‘we must come home now’ speeches they’ve got to give in order to maintain support with their base.

Say Anything, Democrats Forced To Change Their Tune On Iraq

What is perhaps even more interesting, however, is crumbling Democrat support for Pelosi and Reid’s withdraw-at-any-cost mantra. Especially among Democrats who have, you know, actually gone to Iraq (Wall Street Journal subscription link):

The Kansas City Star‘s “The Buzz,” for example, reports Democratic Rep. Brian Baird “saw enough progress on the ground that he will no longer vote for binding withdrawal timelines.” Rep. Jerry McNerney “suggested that his trip to Iraq made him more flexible in his search for a bipartisan accord on the war.” Also changing his tune is Rep. Tim Mahoney of Florida, who says the troop increase ‘has really made a difference and really has gotten al-Qaida on their heels.

There are Democrats interested in the truth in Iraq, and interested in completing our mission. It’s just too bad those Democrats aren’t in charge of the party right now.

The irrepressible Jules Crittenden, Advance to Rear — Having lost militarily, the Democrats fall …

But back to the Dem fingerpointing at Iraq’s struggling nascent democracy woes. If political failure is reason for abandonment, what are the Dems still doing on Capitol Hill? Withdraw!

Even great choruses contain their occasional discordant voices, although in some of these cases, they sound more harmonious than one might expect:

Michael van der Galien of the The Moderate Voice, Democrats Change Position on Iraq... Kind Of.

Now, I am a critic of the surge - I supported the war for a long time until I believed that Bush et al. messed it up beyond repair. I criticized the surge because, to me, it seemed as if it was too little and especially too late. However, now I see that there might be something good happening in Iraq I - and other critics - have to be so honest to acknowledge the progress made. This does not mean that we should suddenly embrace the surge, but it does mean that we should try to keep an open mind about it. As I said, basically, when the surge started: I hope Bush proves me wrong.

He just might.

Of course, political reconciliation is a big part of it as well. Without true political progress, all miltary progress is useless. However, the surge was not meant to solve the political issues - it was only meant to oppress the sectarian violence and, by doing so, Bush and those who support the surge hoped that it would give al-Maliki et al. time (and the will) to take the necessary political steps. In this regard, one could very well argue that al-Maliki is not exactly proving himself to be a good leader, but there is still time. The Iraqi Parliament could replace him (who knows); instead of reconciling from the top down, it seems to be going from the bottom up, so progress is made, at least to a degree.

Again, this does not mean that all will be well. I remain a critic, because I think that it is incredibly difficult to overcome the sectarian strife so soon. The different sects and tribes have hated each other for centuries, and this hatred has only increased under Saddam’s rule and, again later, once the US got rid of the brutal dictator from Tikrit. However, the way the Democrats deal with this does not exactly satisfy me either. Instead of looking at how the damage can be controled, and how as many people as possible can be helped, the Democrats give me the impression that they want the surge to fail because, if it fails, it will help them politically.

This goes not just for the Democratic leadership, but also for quite some people who vote for the Democrats. How else can their constant “all is lost, who cares about progress, all is lost, we will lose really we will” attitude be explained? The passion is not rational.

Then he does the unthinkable. He links to a piece by Democrats Miscalculate On Iraq

Ed Morrissey, stating:

Morrissey’s post on this is, by the way, a must read. I greatly encourage you all to read it in full (not that I agree with everything he writes, but he has a strong case)

I guess that really makes him The Moderate Voice (at least for today).

Here’s what Captain Ed concluded:

Even those who still insist on firm timetables question the Democratic leadership's strategy. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) says that the inflexible and confrontational approach taken by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid has made it impossible to work with Republicans in Congress and the White House. Rather than asking the generals what they need, Congress has tried to dictate limits -- and lost. "I don't know what they're thinking," McNerney said to the Post about the leadership.

That's not true at all. Everyone knows what they're thinking. If they get outmanuevered again, the Democrats will catch hell from the activist base of their party and likely wind up losing the House to the Republicans in 2008. They can't afford to work cooperatively with the people Pelosi and Reid have successfully demonized with their voters, or they will look like complete hypocrites. That's the wages of demagoguery, and payday's coming in September.

And what amounts to thoughtful criticism from the Left (really):

Taylor Marsh, The Surge and The Spin — Nothing is causing more consternation …

I think everyone is missing the real problem with Clinton's statement.
"... .. We can’t be fighting the last war; we have to be preparing to fight the new war." - Hillary Clinton

This is rhetorical hawkery at its worst. It's also political pandering at its most egregious. As someone adamantly opposed to the "global war on terror" talking point, I automatically bristle at this kind of language. It's either sloppy or a window into Clinton's true feelings on national security. Unfortunately, whatever it is it's opened up the one vein Clinton had closed off after much work. Republicans might love this type of rhetoric, but Democratics do not and Clinton needs lots of them to win in the primaries.

We don't have to prepare to "fight the new war." We need to change our foreign policy so that muscular diplomacy replaces the knee jerk reaction to go to war at all unless there is a clear and present danger. But it's what happens when a candidate gets in front of a military group and thinks she has to saber rattle to illustrate her strengths. It's a horrendous overreach by Clinton and an intemperate statement that leaves her wide open to people who do not trust her rhetoric on Iraq from the moment she refused to apologize for her Iraq vote. It also threatens to unravel all of the work she's done to make people trust her.

Here's a lesson. Petreaus's tactics are having a positive effect in some areas, while their is no political gains on the ground at all. Get it? You don't use words like "working," because they're not only wrong, but hand your opponent an actionable word that means the whole ballgame.

However, that's not even the rub right now. With all this undisciplined, rambling "the surge is working" talk and a Republican ad blitz coming around the corner to bolster Bush's White House Report, it's clear the Democrats have strayed so dangerously off message as to threaten what we've worked for all this time. Bush got his surge, with an escalation on top. The political movement in Iraq is non-existent, but yet the Democrats are about to be pressured that "the surge is working" through a political ad blitz right before Petreaus delivers the White House Report on -- wait for it -- 9/11/07, while wingnuts use quotes coming out of the mouths of Democrats to make Bush's case. How in the hell did this happen?

This underscores how truly desperate the Democrats may grow in coming days, amid new reports of continued political progress in Iraq.

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