What a difference a day makes. Or rather, several days and quite a few hours of congressional testimony and public statements regarding the status of the troop “surge” in Iraq from General David Petraeus. Not only are the leading Democrats running for President not calling for immediate withdrawal, but they won’t even say that if they were President the troops would be out of Iraq by the end of their four year term.
In a debate this week, Hillary Clinton said, “It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting." John Edwards said “I cannot make that commitment.”
It is pretty evident now why MoveOn.org and many Democrats were so determined to undermine the testimony of General David Petraeus, leader of U.S. forces in Iraq, with attack ads and questions about the veracity and independence of his report. His testimony made a difference. Even most Americans who don’t like the war, don’t want to lose it. News of progress is making a difference in the debate over the war in Iraq, and no where is the result more significant than in the leadership of the Democratic party.
Although many of the Democrat politicians understand that some things have changed since the Petraeus report, many of the liberal anti-war activists don’t. A liberal blogger commenting on Elizabeth Dole’s re-election chances in North Carolina recently wrote, “UP: Her top assets are the sheer awesomeness of incumbency and that George W. Bush is not on the ballot. DOWN: GWB isn’t on the ballot, but his war is.” Not only are the Democrats’ chances for the presidency heavily dependent on bad news coming from Iraq and an unsuccessful war to run against, but so are Democrats’ prospect for holding the Senate. Bottom line – bad news from Iraq has been good news for many Democrats running for office.
Beyond the political considerations relating to voters, though, a shift in the rhetoric and actions of leading Democrats regarding Iraq has an effect on those base supporters and groups so important to organizing and raising money. I can’t count how many times I have heard since the 2006 election that the electoral success of the Democrats was a statement on the Iraq war and proved that voters wanted us out of there now. Democrats already lost Cindy Sheehan (which I would count ultimately as a win for them) and could be in danger of losing others in the anti-war movement as candidates are backing away from their previous calls for withdrawal.
At Right Wing News, John Hawkins makes a good point with the following question: “So, if Hillary, Barack, and Edwards now have the same position as Rudy, Fred, Mitt, & McCain, you have to ask, who should America trust more to handle Iraq in 2009? The candidates who took that position early on because they thought it was the right thing to do, even though they knew the Democrats could use it against them at the polls, or the Democrats who've taken that position because they feel it's a political necessity after David Petraeus' testimony?”
In addition to the point Hawkins makes about those allowing war policy to be driven by political considerations, voters should ask another question about the way their potential leaders have approached the issues surrounding the Iraq war. Who should Americans trust more to handle Iraq in 2009? Those who thought we should act on threats, those who believe we should act on threats until the polls change, or those who believe such things should be left to the UN?
Which category of candidate makes the most sense to hold the office of president?
The first group consists of those who made the tough decision that knowing what we knew then, we needed to act against a brutal leader most every intelligence agency in the world believed to possess WMD and a willingness to use it. Those in the first category refused to cut and run when the news was less than good and polls had turned against the war. Instead, they chose to support making adjustments and doing the hard work necessary to find a way to win.
Those in the second group supported the tough decision that knowing what we knew then, we needed to act against the brutal leader most every intelligence agency in the world believed to possess WMD and a willingness to use it, but when public opinion turned against the war they refused to accept the hard work of finding a solution.
Those in the third group decided not to act against a madman leader of a country with an open hatred of the United States believed to possess enough WMD to kill thousands, if not millions, of people. Those in this group decided that in spite of the attacks of September 11, and in spite of information from Russian intelligence that “Saddam’s special forces were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States ‘and beyond its borders on American military and civilian targets.”
The leading GOP candidates for President fit into the first category, while the leading Democrats running for President fall into the second and third.
It can’t be known now whether or not the success seen so far from the surge in Iraq will continue through the 2008 election, or whether things will fall apart and sentiment against the war effort will turn even more negative. What is clear though is which party will benefit politically if additional progress is made in Iraq, and which party will not. That goes a long way toward explaining the recent words and actions of some of the Democrats’ Presidential candidates.