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Shifting Democrats

Today’s Politico has a front page story, “Democrats Retreat on War End.” In the article we read this:

In a strategic shift designed to win over Republican critics of the Iraq war, congressional Democrats are backing off demands for a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops and instead are seeking a new bipartisan deal to end the military campaign. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are calculating that it is futile to continue their months-long campaign to force an immediate end to the war, particularly after Republicans and a few Democrats returned from the summer recess intent on opposing legislation mandating a strict timetable for pulling out U.S. troops.

And this:

Said another [Democratic Hill] aide involved in the process: “Despite the months of debate, and all the votes, and all the ads and everything, we have not been able to break the Republicans. They are still with Bush, and that’s the reality here.”

This article is more evidence that the political ground has shifted significantly, and maybe even massively, on Iraq. Democrats are now seeking a deal based on a position of weakness rather than strength. They made several runs at the President months ago, when he was in his most precarious position politically on Iraq, hoping they could break his will and then undo his strategy. But President Bush, in what may go down as one of his most impressive achievements, held firm—and so did most Republicans. And now their political courage may well bear political fruit.

Iraq still remains an enormous challenge, and nothing is assured. Yet there’s no longer any doubt that the surge is working militarily; even critics of the war—the honest ones, at least—concede that fact. But to frame the Iraq debate as bifurcated—progress on the security side but failure on the political side—is also wrong. In fact, as Michael Gordon, the chief Pentagon correspondent of the New York Times, said to Charlie Rose earlier this week, the bottom-up reconciliation we’re seeing is the single most important thing happening in Iraq right now. We’re seeing both military progress and political progress—just not in the way many anticipated.

Leading Democrats and antiwar critics made a huge political wager: the Iraq war was an irredeemable failure, and they would force an American withdrawal, thereby expediting an American defeat. But it turns out that failure was not fated and, in fact, a decent outcome in Iraq is now possible and perhaps even within reach. It is now beginning to dawn on Democrats what they have done in their rush to undercut the surge; they are also starting to recognize the good that has followed in the wake of the surge.

It was only eight months ago that the President’s new strategy was unveiled. But when it comes to Iraq, January was a world away. The specter of McGovernism once again stalks the political landscape.



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