Donald Lambro

"I really do believe that if we had a clear strategy, we can ultimately provide sufficient stability in Iraq. I think that part is doable," he said.

So does one of President Bush's fiercest war critics, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan. "I think that there's a chance of success," he said, "providing the Iraqis put their political house in order."

As for talk of a pullout at this stage in the war, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland say that withdrawal now would be tantamount to surrender before Iraqi government forces are ready to defend their country from the terrorist insurgency.

Echoing Duffy's political concerns, Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he fears the party's troop pullout posture could hurt its efforts to win additional House seats next year.

Like Panetta, a growing number of Democrats want Dean to button his lip on Iraq, saying he is doing more harm than good for the party. "My words to Howard Dean are simple -- shut up," Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota said last week.

Duffy said, "Dean's position is not universally shared within the party and all these folks are going to have to deal with this stuff" in next year's campaigns.

The upshot is that the Democrats' liberal antiwar wing is coming under surprisingly strong fire from the party's hawks, who say they will never win back the White House without staking out a get-tough national security posture in an age of terrorism.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has taken a generally centrist position on the war and has rejected troop withdrawal calls, knows this better than anyone. "I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit," she said in a recent e-mail message to constituents and supporters.

That message has angered Democratic doves on the left, but the New York senator knows she cannot win the presidency in 2008 with just her party's left-wing base. She will need centrist swing voters, too -- Reagan Democrats who gave Bill Clinton two terms in office.

Where's George W. Bush in all of this? Well, a multi-pronged counteroffensive against his war critics may be paying off. Pollster John Zogby tells me that early preliminary numbers suggest that Bush's numbers "are a little better."


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.