WASHINGTON -- When the Democrats were campaigning to take over Congress, they benefited from a tidal wave of political anger aimed at the Republicans who had been in charge for the past 12 years.
But as the Democrats prepare to take control of the House and Senate, it is their legislative proposals that are in the spotlight, drawing much closer critical scrutiny than they received in this year's election. As one top GOP political strategist told me, "They are the ones who are in trouble now." The Democrats won't assume power until January, but their proposals to pull out of Iraq, slap a higher minimum wage on small businesses and raise taxes, including the tax on dividends and capital gains, are already taking hits.
In some cases, the criticism is coming from people who were among the Republicans' severest critics. People like retired Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the former head of the U.S. Central Command, who called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation and has been a critic of the conduct of the war. Zinni thinks the Democrats' proposal to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within four to six months would be a disaster.
The Democrats' reasoning behind their plan, if you can call it a plan, is that the prospect of troop withdrawal would put pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to take more aggressive steps to combat the terrorists and end the sectarian violence there.
"Well, you can't put pressure on a wounded guy," Zinni told The New York Times last week. "There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence."
Indeed, he thinks it makes more sense to increase U.S. troop strength, as Republican Sen. John McCain has proposed, to "regain momentum" as part of a comprehensive effort to stabilize Iraq, build its economy and its security forces.
Zinni is not the only one criticizing the troop-withdrawal plan devised by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which would send the proposal to the Senate floor early next year. Retired two-star Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded a division in Iraq and who had also called for Rumsfeld's resignation, said the idea was "terribly naive."
"There are lots of things that have to happen to set them up for success," Batiste said. "Until they happen, it does not matter what we tell Maliki." Kenneth Pollack, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution and a former national-security adviser in the Clinton administration, told the Times that if Levin's plan were put into effect, it would result in "the eventuality of civil war tomorrow."