Monday, March 20, 2006

No Plan For Iraq, eh?

Chris Matthews is a favorite punching bag of ours and for good reason. But you look at conversations like the one between Republican strategist Ed Rogers and Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen that took place on 3/14 Hardball, and it's clear, Matthews isn't the only problem we have.

MATTHEWS: The Democrats, what do they say we should do in Iraq?

HILLARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well the Democrats want the president to stop sugar coating this and saying over and over again that we‘re headed for victory.

ROGERS: But we are. We are headed for victory. Are we headed for defeat?

ROSEN: We have no plan. We‘re headed for prolonged trillion dollar spending, multiple casualties, and potential civil unrest. That‘s what we‘re readied for.

ROGERS: The Democrats don‘t have a plan.
Umm okaaay. So, the Democrats' plan for Iraq is that the we want the president to stop saying we‘re headed for victory? Way to walk right into the "Democrats are for defeat" talking point. As the conversation went on, it didn't get much better.

MATTHEWS: In other words, don‘t offer a strategy, just say we need new leadership. Admit that, will you?

ROSEN: Seventy percent of the American people do not know why we‘re there and think it was a mistake. To suggest somehow that is the Democrats‘ fault is just hogwash.

MATTHEWS: In terms of policy right now, where do the Democrats stand?

ROSEN: I think Democrats are on the range of Iraq. Some are still trying to be—you‘ve got a Joe Lieberman who is saying the president is right—
ROSEN: It doesn‘t have a policy because it doesn‘t need to have a policy.

ROGERS: It‘s a lucky thing.

ROSEN: What‘s the point of a Democratic policy. We are Americans.

ROGERS: The Democrats having a position on war and peace, what‘s the point?
Sigh. This conversation is dispiriting for so many reasons. Not only does Rosen cite Lieberman as a leader within the Democratic caucus on Iraq, but come on, even if it were true that the Democrats don't have an Iraq policy, is saying "we don't need one" or "what's the point?" really productive? Talk about asking for defeat.

It's true that the ones whose onus it is to have a policy are those who are actually waging the war, but we learned the danger of not having a coherent Iraq policy in 2004. If we want voters to choose Democrats, those running really do need to spell out what differentiates us from the Republicans on this issue. Remember, it is this issue that is cited as respondents' most pressing concern in poll after poll after poll.

Perhaps the most maddening thing about Hillary Rosen's performance last week is that the Democrats actually have been advancing a policy, consistently and repeatedly on talk show after talk show for weeks now. But why is no one noticing? And why doesn't the leadership make sure that every surrogate on every show repeats OUR talking points, not allow Republicans (and the media) to portray us as a party adrift without any productive policies other than to criticize the policies of the president?

So, what is that policy, you ask? It's simple: "Memo to Iraqis: shape up or we ship out."

Listen to what the Democrats have been saying:

This Week, 2/26:
Senator Carl Levin:

"If within the next six to eight weeks, you do not create a government of national unity, if you continue to squabble, if you continue to fiddle while Baghdad burns, then we are going to have to reassess our presence," Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said. Asked, in an interview with ABC News television's "This Week" program, if this position represented a warning that the US military could be withdrawn from Iraq, Levin replied: "Exactly."
Meet The Press, 3/12:

SENATOR JOE BIDEN: If they don't have a constitution in place by this summer that is viewed as a uniting document, where everybody signs on to it, it's game over. Now, how you pull them out, where you pull them to, whether you have them over the horizon, whether you kept a containment policy that, that, that secures the region in a different way, that's a whole different question. But status quo, the way it is now, is over.
This Week With George Stephanopolous, 3/19 (self-transcribed):

SENATOR JACK REED: [Redeploying our troops] needs to be done as quickly as possible. We do that by not only encouraging but insisting that the Iraqis stand up. The president's slogan, and he's good at slogans, not good at strategy, but good at slogans, is that we'll stand down when they stand up is wrong. We're standing down, they have to stand up much faster than they're doing it right now. And then we can redeploy within the country and then hopefully begin to deploy tour troops out of the region.

GS: Picking up on what Senator Hagel has said, two of your Dem colleagues, Sen Levin and Sen Biden have said that basically this political solution has about six weeks and if they can't come together in the next six weeks, we have to reassess our entire presence. Do you agree with that?

REED: I absolutely do agree with that...I think he shouldn't be timid. I think he should send Secretary Rice over there to convene these people to insist that this is the highest level priority for the people of Iraw and also the United States...The only leverage we have is our troop presence. And I think we have to make it clear to the Iraqi political leaders that if they're not able or willing to come together with a political solution that recognizes the differences and pulls together different factions that our presence can't be definite there...We're not gonna be hostage to their feuds to their factions that we will in fact at some point determine that our presence there is not helping at all, it's disabling, not enabling. I think we have to be very clear to them and I think we have to do it publicly. The president has been very reluctant to send a strong public signal that our longterm presence there is a function of the political steps the Iraqis have taken. But that's precisely what we have to do.

And finally, on Tuesday's Hardball, a week after Hillary Rosen's poor performance, my Senator, Dianne Feinstein, impressed the pants off of Matthews with a "nuanced" Iraq policy. And yes, Feinstein continued to advance the same policy:

Hardball, 3/21
You need to say to Iraqis, you need to affect a reconciliation between Shia and Sunni. Absent that there is no united Iraq and absent that the United States is not going to stay there.
So, you may ask, does this really constitute a solid policy that Democrats can win on? I think so for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is in direct opposition to the Republicans. They have been extremely reluctant to talk about using our troop presence as leverage in an ultimatum to make the Iraqis step up. In fact, in two of the above interviews, George Allen and Chuck Hagel openly disagreed with the idea. And it is counter to Bush's own "stay the course" strategery, even as it smartly co-opts Bush's "we'll stand down when Iraqis stand up" meme.

The second reason it could work well for Democrats is that it represents a sort of tough love approach that allows us to act the disciplinarian father role, if you will, and simultaneously paint the Republicans as the more forgiving "mommie" figure, a complete reversal of the current conventional wisdom about how the two parties are perceived on this issue. In fact, this is the very strategy that Tom Friedman assigned to Dick Cheney in his March 10 column precisely because of Cheney's "mean streak" and is, as the title of his column reads: "Mr. Nasty, Brutish and Short-Tempered." Friedman urges:'s time for some dramatic new thinking and acting. To put it in a nutshell: It is not time for the U.S. to leave Iraq, but it is time for the U.S. to start threatening to leave Iraq.
We need to bring together all the newly elected Iraqi leaders for a national reconciliation conference -- outside Baghdad. We should lock them in a room and not let them out until they either produce a national unity government, so Americans will want to stay in Iraq, or fail to produce that government, which would signal that it's time to warm up the bus.
If the Democrats are going to advance this policy, as I think they should, it's about time they got credit for doing so. There needs to be some message discipline and some better coaching of our talk show surrogates. I for one am sick and tired of hearing Ed Rogers, time and time again, get away with saying things such as he did once again on last night's Hardball:

ROGERS: The Democrats are quick to go there because they can’t go anywhere else. They don’t have a plan themselves.
They keep asking what the Democratic plan is. It's about time we gave it to them!


Post a Comment

<< Home