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October 11, 2007

What Democrats Need to Do on Iraq
Posted by Michael Cohen

A couple of days ago my blog-mate and fellow speechwriter, Heather Hurlburt offered a few thoughts on how Democrats could potentially change course in Iraq. In the end, she came with a sort of split the difference approach:

Get behind something Republicans could accept and make it clear that their colleagues who could cooperate and don't will be targeted extra-hard.

I think this is a good first start, but allow me to take it a step further. Democrats need to accept the fact that Senate Republicans are never going to "get behind something" on Iraq that Democrats could accept and even if they do the White House will veto it. So what's the solution - kick the political crap out of Republicans.

Now let me be clear, I am not suggesting this approach as a partisan Democrat. After all, I'm a member of the Very Serious Foreign Policy Community so of course I love compromise and bipartisanship and I have a velvet painting of David Broder on my living room wall. But it seems to me that Democrats need to understand that if they want to affect change on Iraq, it's reached the point where they're going to have to play a little hardball.

For the past nine months Democrats have tried the conciliatory approach - how has that worked out? The fact is, no matter what Democrats pass, this President will almost certainly veto it and there really is no way that Dems are going to get 67 votes on any bill that changes course in Iraq. Watered down legislation, like the toothless Alexander/Salazar bill that embraces the recommendations of the ISG study group, but doesn't actually force the White House to do anything different on Iraq is not a solution. Indeed, it's just a way for Republicans to say they are voting for a change in course that in actuality brings no real change at all. That's what we would call a lose-lose for Democrats.

Now some on the left will say 'what about defunding the war'? While I'm sympathetic to the notion, it's not clear the Dems even have the votes to pass such a bill. Moreover, defunding the troops is not only politically dangerous, but from a policy standpoint would set a bad precedent - one that future Democratic Presidents may not want to embrace. Finally, defunding the war really isn't really a policy and it's not a guideline for a safe and orderly withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. I understand the frustration of those who want to defund, but I'm not sure it makes the most political and policy sense.

No, in the end, Democrats are not going to be able to change things in Iraq - it's a sad and tragic result of a stubborn President seemingly divorced from reality and common sense. But there is no reason why Senate Republicans should be enabling this insane policy and there is even less reason for Dems to allow them to get away with it.

When a major political party is this out-of-step with the American people on the single, biggest issue in American politics, the other political party has a responsibility, even a duty, to remind the American people of this fact. Moreover, from a purely political standpoint, they have a responsibility and duty to make them pay a significant political price. If that means forcing Republicans to conduct an actual filibuster in opposing the Webb Amendment or holding weekly votes on a bill that calls for withdrawal from Iraq, with or without a timetable then so be it. In fact, I think this is exactly what Harry Reid should be doing. I want to see cots in the U.S. Capitol!

The benefits of such an approach are sixfold:

  • It will put pressure on moderate Republicans or those like Lugar, Alexander and others who have expressed queasiness with the White House approach on Iraq to make clear where they stand.
  • It could cost Republicans a bunch of Senate seats in November 2008.
  • It will sharpen the differences between the two parties on Iraq and put Congressional Republicans and even GOP Presidential candidates in the same boat with President Bush on the war.
  • It will pacify the increasingly agitated anti-war left.
  • It will show that Democrats are not a bunch of wimps and that they are willing to stand up for what they believe in.
  • It will really piss off David Broder.

Of course, as Heather suggests, "this would require some compromise and cooperation from both sides of the progressive movement." Agreed. Maybe such an approach will help demonstrate to the Cindy Sheehans and Moveon.orgs of the world that Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats are not the bad guys on Iraq.


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Hey, I like it when you get Very Serious!

A couple of points and questions:

How long so you see an "orlderly" withdrawal from Iraq taking?

Can a bill without a timetable have teeth? Seems to me that Bush would just say "That's right, we're getting out as soon as we can."

Pelosi was an interesting example to use in terms of who antiwar progressives might want to lay off of because it doesn't seem to me that Sheehan has much support among the antiwar crowd. I would guess, though, that a lot of us will continue to want to run primary challengers against the Democrats who helped get us into Iraq, who have compromised our civil liberties and who we fear might wind up getting us into a war with Iran. We really need a tougher fight on the entire Bush agenda. That would mostly be about Iraq but will include foreign policy in general and certainly Homeland Security, domestic spying and all of that.

Guess I don't have a lot of confidence in the people poised to cave on FISA yet again.

A velvet David Broder painting!! That is the image of the week!! Couldn't we create a whole series, Giants of the Very Serious Foreign Policy Establishment, that we could sell from a little ad in the back pages of Foreign Affairs? (And outsource production to Mexico so Charles Krauthammer will love us too?)

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I would guess, though, that a lot of us will continue to want to run primary challengers against the Democrats who helped get us into Iraq, who have compromised our civil liberties and who we fear might wind up getting us into a war with Iran. We really need a tougher fight on the entire Bush agenda.

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