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Posted by on Sep 7, 2007 in Politics, War | 11 comments

John McCain Says Democrats Have Lost Momentum On Iraq Policy

Arizona Senator John McCain became the first high-profile Republican to say out loud what some on weblogs and a top columnist are saying: the Democrats are losing — or have lost — the momentum on their push to change Iraq policy:

Democratic efforts to reach bipartisan agreement on changing Iraq war policy is evidence that the controlling party has “lost momentum” in their push to end the war in Iraq by setting a timeline for a troop withdrawal, according to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.

“They’ve lost the momentum, otherwise they wouldn’t want to sit down with Republicans and negotiate a solution,” McCain said in a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. “The facts on the ground contradict the assertions of those who want to set a timetable for withdrawal.”

Since returning from the August recess this week, Democratic leaders have been using more ambiguous language to describe their approach to shifting Iraq policy. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that Democrats would “probably” pursue another timetable measure.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said “nothing is off the table” with regard to Iraq. But he did not take a firm stance on whether he would support a goal-based withdrawal proposal if it replaced a timetable-based measure.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said this week that he would consider basing withdrawal provisions on achieved goals rather than timetables if making the change would attract the 60 votes needed to beat a Republican filibuster. Levin had previously co-sponsored a proposal setting April 30, 2008 as a deadline for having a “limited presence” in Iraq.

Reid doesn’t agree with McCain:

Reid contended with McCain’s analysis of Democratic power on Iraq. He said Democrats are “not backing off of anything” but did acknowledge that “there may be things that we can do in a bipartisan way to get 60 votes.” Reid continued to offer promises of bipartisanship, saying he hopes “we can enter into an arrangement with Republicans.”

It certainly DOES sound like a shift. And New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, writing in Times Select, essentially predicts there is more of the same to come:

Here’s what will definitely happen when Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress next week: he’ll assert that the surge has reduced violence in Iraq — as long as you don’t count Sunnis killed by Sunnis, Shiites killed by Shiites, Iraqis killed by car bombs and people shot in the front of the head.

Here’s what I’m afraid will happen: Democrats will look at Gen. Petraeus’s uniform and medals and fall into their usual cringe. They won’t ask hard questions out of fear that someone might accuse them of attacking the military. After the testimony, they’ll desperately try to get Republicans to agree to a resolution that politely asks President Bush to maybe, possibly, withdraw some troops, if he feels like it.

Krugman also points to something that is likely to happen as well: no matter what the Democrats agree to, they will be painted by the GOP as basically cut-and-runners and weak on security in 2008:

One thing is for sure: like 2004, 2008 will be a “khaki election” in which Republicans insist that a vote for the Democrats is a vote against the troops. The only question is whether they can also, once again, claim that the Democrats are flip-floppers who can’t make up their minds.

Indeed: the Republicans have to hold their base firm on this issue to reconstitute their winning coalition and must peel off independents and some non-progressive Democrats to shore up support for the war and win in 2008. The Democrats need independents voters and some disgruntled Republicans — but they also have to hold THEIR progressive base which is clamoring for substantive change in Iraq policy.

This battle pits the political smarts of Congressional Democrats against the political smarts of the White House. But you also have to throw in the “bully pulpit” of the White House — its still-considerable power to set the agenda, define and set the terms of debate, even with its Grand Canyon-like credibility problem.

Yet, the “political smarts” aspect is what it will hinge on in the end. Who is proving more skillful at defining and steering policy and who can be outmaneuvered?

One signal: it’s not a good sign when John McCain and Paul Krugman sound like they’re reading from the same page.

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • McCain is wrong: nothing has changed. The goal of Congressional Democrats has been and continues to be to look like they oppose the war while doing nothing that will end it; consider their incentive structure – while the war continues it provides them with a useful political tool, while if they force the matter by cutting off funding, they risk paying a political price similar to the aftermath of Vietnam.

    Krugman is also off-base: he’s probably accurately describing what we will see in the hearings. But then, on the Sunday talk show circuit and anywhere that they can find a camera, they’ll be singing the same tune they’ve been whistling since they discovered that all the hot air coming out of the leftosphere will fill a party’s sails quite effectively.

  • Mr.Moderate

    McCain’s position highlights exactly what is wrong with the modern right wing movement. According to him, the only way you sit down with the other side of the political isle is when you are in trouble. It isn’t because moderate Democrats want to build consensus. It isn’t because the solution to this problem is too complicated for one side to have all the answers, despite what the left and right wing fringes think. No, it is only when you are forced to kicking and screaming because you can’t get your way absolutely. Remind me why my opinion of John McCain has been on a spiral downwards over the last four years…

  • Somebody

    The democrats staked their political future on the policy of being vehement antiwar and to paint bush and company as gung ho cowboys.

    They refused to acknowledge anything positive and the incessant drum of “THE WAR IS LOST” coming from the left worked.

    Now they have a day of reckoning coming. They must square what they have been saying while out of power with what is the reality when they are IN power.

    This is simply the democrats realizing that the Republicans and the rest of our allies are RIGHT. We cannot flee IRAQ and leave it in turmoil, much as we could not flee South Korea and hope it would survive or we could not flee Vietnam and hope that it was going to survive against both the North Vietnamese, China and The USSR.

    Reality is reality and the reality is that the democrats will most likely be in power and when they are…..they will have to put up or shut up. They will have to deal with those Allies whom they claim Bush has alienated yet who will be demanding that there is no way the USA can FLEE IRAQ.

    Its pay back time and now the Democrats are just positioning themselves for the stretch run to the 2008 elections.

    This was always for them about staying in power. It was never about what is good for the USA or Iraq or the World. They now have accomplished task one….staying in power……now they have to worry about task two…….keeping the world from going up in flames.

  • Amanda

    Aside from Mr. Moderate, it sounds like you guys have been drinking the kool-aid. If you paid attention to the actual candidates and not sound-bites and 30 second commercials, you would know that the majority of Democrats in office have differing and nuanced oppinions about the Iraq war. Some want to stay, some want to leave ASAP, some want to set specific benchmarks. The only point they (and many others) agree on completely, is that the Bush policy is not working. It is not all black and white – with us or against us – victory or defeat. Anyone who says it is, is either an idiot or woefully ignorant.

    So the Democrats want to sit down with the Republicans and discuss options for the Iraq war. I think that’s great. It’s exactly how things should have been working from the very beginning. Lately, politics has been too involved in winning for the Party, and not nearly concerned enough with doing what is right for America as a whole. Complain all you want about Defeatocrats and the party that wants to lose the war, but the only thing you’ll accomplish is more partisan bickering and more stalling. If you really want us to have some sort of victory in Iraq, you’ll encourage your representatives to work with everyone in Congress, regardless of their political parties, to find a workable solutions.

  • domajot

    Thank you, Amanda.

    Read any thread on any post, and you will see a stream of comments beginning with ‘the Democrats this… or the Democrats that…”
    The reality is that the defining characteristic of the Democrats is that they are not all of one mind about anything. It makes it more difficult for the leadership, but it’s a much healthier state of mind than the speak-with-one voice approach. The latter stifles intelligent, individual thought, IMO.

    Having so many internal squabbles makes Democrats much more open to compromise across party lines. At the end of the day, they are more pragmatic,

    From what I see of conservative commentary, their internal debates are more about who has ‘betrayed”
    their principles. Focusing so extensively on not betraying principles pretty much shuts the door on compromise, it seems to me.

    I know I’m painting with a broad brush, and I will be the first to accept examples of contradiction in specific instances. I do it to point out how off-base it is to put all Democrats in one box.

    Particularly when it comes to the Iraq war, their internal differences should not only be acknowledged, they should be lauded. It’s the differences that lead to a broad discussion. Sticking to absolutist slogans like ‘victory’ is downright dangerous, when no one knows in which direction ultimate victory lies.

  • I think Simon had it right:

    The goal of Congressional Democrats has been and continues to be to look like they oppose the war while doing nothing that will end it; consider their incentive structure – while the war continues it provides them with a useful political tool, while if they force the matter by cutting off funding, they risk paying a political price similar to the aftermath of Vietnam

    And the aftermath will be 10 times worse than in Vietname.

    Sorry, the Democrats aren’t going to do anything. They can’t, given the almost inevitable result of doing what they promised.

  • Sam

    Amanda you have to give them a break, most conservatives are only able to see in black and white, especially any that still support the war.

    And its impossible for the dems to have lost momentum on the war, because they don’t have any. Until they enough votes to override a veto the course of the war, ENTIRELY, is still in Bush’s hands. They can propose all the bills they want, but unless it meets the presidents approval its dead in the water. Its like people suddenly forget how the gov’t works when they watch the news.

  • Sam, that dog won’t hunt; it isn’t true that Congress requires the President’s assent to end the war.

    Let’s quickly refresh our memories on applicable ConLaw 101. Art. I § 1 vests “[a]ll legislative powers herein granted … in a Congress of the United States”; § 8 grants Congress the power “[t]o … support armies” (but expressly qualifies that grant saying that “no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years”), and § 10 provides that “[n]o money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” So: the government may only spend money appropriated by law, only Congress can make law (and thus, appropriations), and appropriations for the army are expressly limited to two years. Any money spent after the money appropriated by the last Congress – and certainly any new expenditures – must come from new appropriations, that must pass this Congress. Democrats like to toot their horn about how much the war costs. Who’s writing the cheques?

    Are you getting the picture now? You don’t have to override a veto. You have merely to stop signing the checks. But they haven’t done that and they aren’t going to do that, because, that would bring down the final curtain on the war – and as I said above, “[t]he goal of Congressional Democrats has been and continues to be to look like they oppose the war while doing nothing that will end it….”

  • Sam

    Actually THAT dog won’t hunt when forced to face reality. Stopping the checks from flowing will force an immediate and total withdrawal when anyone with two brains cells to rub together knows it needs something that is paced and scheduled to minimize the ensuing. It will literally be a disaster that points directly to Congress, despite Bush’s hand in forcing it.

    Bush is still in the drivers seat, saying I’ll take my hands off the wheel if you want but the resulting crash is your fault.

  • Amanda

    Right. Like anyone is actually going to cut off funding tomorrow and just leave the troops and the Iraqis high and dry. That would be military and political suicide. And you know it. If the Dems actually did cut off funds, it would be an even worse disaster in Iraq than it is already. Of course they aren’t going to do that and nobody should reasonably expect that as an option.

    Like I said before – this is not a black or white situation. You can’t say “end the war now or let it go on indefinitely.” Neither of those is an intelligent or viable option. What we need is for people to work together across party lines to find a happy medium, whether it’s a phased withdrawal or benchmarks or a timetable or something else entirely. Letting Bush continue on with more of the same won’t work. Flinging mud at opposing political parties won’t work. Digging your heels in and refusing to work on a compromise won’t work.

  • Somebody


    But you are all missing the point or more precisely making sure that the Republicans/conservatives get more bashing then does the Democrats which………

    John McCain Says Democrats Have Lost Momentum On Iraq Policy

    This is about the Democrats…….not about the Republicans. As soon as anyone says anything remotely negative about the democrats everyone steps up and starts bashing Republicans.

    I for one did not imply the Republicans are saints or have it all together…….I simply was posting what I believe to be the strategy that the democrats have employed that has brought them to this point in their political lives.

    I Believe it to be true. It is not about weather they are good bad or indifferent. They had a strategy and they worked it to perfection and now they are simply readjusting that strategy to make way for the leadership that most certainly will be handed to them in 2008.

    Im sorry……..but I never liked Kool Aide.

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