I just got a call from someone representing The Friends of John Kerry. The FoJK are pushing a petition to bring 20,000 troops home from Iraq by Christmas. I declined to sign the petition, even though of course I want troops home by Christmas. I told the Friend that I want the Dems to stop competing with each other and get together behind a single, basic plan. They don’t have to agree on the fine details, but with the Bush Administration and the Republican Party in dissaray, it’s time for the Dems to speak with one voice.
The near hysterical reaction of the Bush administration to Representative John Murtha’s call for a swift American pullout from Iraq, lumping the hawkish Pennsylvania Democrat with “Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party,” underscores the war planners’ acute awareness that Murtha has breached a crucial dike. They must brace themselves for a storm surge of opposition to their Iraq project in coming months that could leave them politically stranded.
Murtha’s move renders obsolete the cautious half-steps that centrist Democrats have advanced to differentiate themselves from Bush on Iraq, but which the administration has consistently been able to co-opt. The standing ovation that Murtha’s House colleagues gave him in the closed-door Democratic caucus suggests the depth of their disenchantment, though most are not themselves ready yet to embrace his proposal publicly. But by early next year total “redeployment” (the Reagan euphemism for withdrawal) by the end of 2006 will almost surely emerge as the liberal alternative to the conservatives’ war.
I think the Dems need to claim collective ownership of a serious withdrawal plan ASAP. By this I mean a general working plan, whether John Murtha’s “beyond the horizon” redeployment or something else, upon which more specific nuts-and-bolts withdrawal procedures can be built. Such a plan should be a well-publicized feature of Brand Democrat going into 2006. And Democrats need to claim ownership of this plan now, before Republicans beat them to it.
Bush has a history of turning on a dime and assimilating former opposing positions as his own. For example, he fought the creation of the Department of Homeland Security tooth and nail, until one day in (I think ) June 2002 he declared he was for it. From that moment forward he spoke of it as if it had been his policy all along. And by adding a “poison pill” anti-Union provision, he took the issue away from the Democrats, who were for the DHS all those months that Bush was against it. As Molly Ivins wrote in April 2004,
There are always moments of cognitive dissonance in listening to President Bush, when you realize that what he is saying simply does not accord with any known version of reality. By way of good news, he proudly bragged that “we” created the Department of Homeland Security — that would be the department whose creation he opposed all those months. Also, he is looking forward to the report of the 9-11 Commission — that would be the same commission he so vigorously opposed for all those months. …
… One trouble with Bush’s “stay the course” rhetoric — he never changes his mind, he never backs down, what a macho guy he is, etc. — is that he does change his mind, often, (why do you think Condi Rice testified?), but you can’t tell if he realizes it.
Some time soon — maybe after the December elections — Bush could announce that the “mission” is sufficiently accomplished to begin withdrawal from Iraq. And then Karl Rove and the noise machine will turn the centrist Democrats’ “cautious half-steps” into talking points arguing the Dems are against withdrawal. That sounds may farfetched, I know, but I think it is entirely in line with Bush’s past behavior.
Whether Bush likes it or not, whether he realizes it now or not, U.S. troops cannot stay in Iraq in perpetuity. One way or another we’re going to leave before Bush’s second term has expired.
The fact is that we’re not going to stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, whatever that means in this context. At most, we’ll stay until the American military can take no more.
Mr. Bush never asked the nation for the sacrifices – higher taxes, a bigger military and, possibly, a revived draft – that might have made a long-term commitment to Iraq possible. Instead, the war has been fought on borrowed money and borrowed time. And time is running out. With some military units on their third tour of duty in Iraq, the superb volunteer army that Mr. Bush inherited is in increasing danger of facing a collapse in quality and morale similar to the collapse of the officer corps in the early 1970’s.
So the question isn’t whether things will be ugly after American forces leave Iraq. They probably will. The question, instead, is whether it makes sense to keep the war going for another year or two, which is all the time we realistically have.
The Democrats’ window of opportunity is open now. I don’t know how long it will stay open. It’s time for them to get their act together and speak with one voice.