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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.