Now that the elections are over and the Democrats have won, it is clear that America's policy in Iraq is going to undergo significant changes. Whatever these are, they won't represent a simple continuation of President Bush's "stay the course" policy that has dominated these last three disheartening years. At the same time, they almost equally certainly won't consist of adopting the bug-out policy of the left-wing Democrats, who (in Mark Steyn's unimprovable words) "don't want victory, they want out." The election returns confirmed that a majority of the American people is deeply dissatisfied with the course of the war in Iraq, but that's far from saying they are in favor of losing it. (In a poll by even liberal-leaning news agency CNN, more than half of Americans surveyed said they felt the war in Iraq can be won.)
Instead, it appears that much is beginning to depend on whatever is proposed in coming months by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission, which was appointed by President Bush to look at Iraq with "fresh eyes" and come up with proposals for improvements.
To be sure, it will tax the diplomatic resources of even as wily an operator as James Baker to come up with a series of suggestions that will win the backing of such disparate commission members as Ed Meese and Sandra Day O'Connor. But if the commission can agree at all, it is almost bound to make proposals that won't amount to turning Iraq over to the insurgents, either at once or in foreseeable stages.
It will then be up to the two parties to decide how to respond to the commission's suggestions. Assuming these involve pressing on with the war in one way or another, President Bush is surely going to want to accept them, perhaps with a few modifications. For the Democrats, however, the problem is going to be trickier.
They would not, for understandable reasons, like to see the Baker-Hamilton commission pull some rabbit out of the hat that results in making Bush look good. On the other hand, they can settle for any outcome, good or bad, that makes Bush and his policies look like a failure. Almost equally important, however, they would welcome some solution that -- again, good or bad -- takes Iraq off the table altogether as an issue in 2008 and thereafter, so that Bush's successor (especially if a Democrat) won't have to cope with it on his or her watch.
It is simply too early to know what the commission will propose, let alone how the Democrats are likely to respond to it. It is not too early, however, to note that the latter question may have important implications for the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008.
Let us assume that the commission makes recommendations that, in one way or another, entail continued American military involvement in the Middle East. The relatively hawkish wing of the Democratic Party (represented by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Joseph Biden) might well be inclined to go along with such a policy -- perhaps with modifications of their own. But, as recent events have shown, there is a vociferous segment of the Democratic Party that is much closer to demanding total American military withdrawal. In the Democratic senatorial primary in Connecticut in August, that segment soundly defeated Sen. Joseph Lieberman (whom it regarded as far too much of a hawk) and replaced him with pull-out enthusiast Ted Lamont.
It is by no means impossible that Clinton (say) might be challenged in the Democratic primaries by someone -- Al Gore perhaps? -- willing to be the champion of the George Soroses and the left-wing bloggers. And the result might well be the 2008 Connecticut primary all over again: a triumph for the leftists. But don't forget that Lamont was thereupon trounced by hawkish Lieberman (running as an independent) in the November election. If Connecticut reflects the rest of the country, the Democratic left may be strong enough to win primaries, but not the ensuing election.