Feingold Supplies the Ticket, But Will Dems Use It?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Feingold Supplies the Ticket, But Will Dems Use It?

The Washington Post reports today:
Democrats say a long-standing rift in the party over the Iraq war has grown increasingly raw in recent days, as stay-the-course elected leaders who voted for the war three years ago confront rising impatience from activists and strategists who want to challenge President Bush aggressively to withdraw troops.

... Although Bush's approval ratings have sunk, the Democrats have gained no ground at his expense. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll in June, just 42 percent of Americans approved of congressional Democrats, a figure even lower than Bush's.
I think there are a variety of reasons why congressional Dems aren't polling well, but I think the Post's suggestion explains part of their problem: Democrats have offered no unified alternative to the president's Iraq policy.

Sure, Dems have bitched and moaned about a mismanaged war, but they have never offered a credible, concrete suggestion for what the U.S. should do -- other than perhaps sending more troops over there. I'm not sure 25,000 more U.S. troops would produce anything but a better recruiting message for the insurgents and, thus, more dead U.S. soldiers.

The best Kerry could offer last year was that he would somehow convince European nations that were sitting on the sidelines to send troops and personnel to Iraq, and take on more of the responsibility. Yeah, right. Even I couldn't believe that would work.

I understand why Republicans won't (at least not publicly) support Senator Russ Feingold's proposed troop withdrawal. But what explains why other leading Democrats are standing on the sidelines? It has been four days since Feingold unveiled his proposal, and you have to assume he ran it by at least one or two fellow Democratic senators. Are Democratic senators and House members as tone-deaf as former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry, who was quoted in today's Post thusly:
The smartest thing for Democrats to do is be supportive.
Supportive of administration policy that clearly isn't winning the peace in Iraq? That advice is misguided in every way -- misguided politically, misguided morally and misguided in the broader context of foreign policy.

Is Feingold's proposal really so radical? Well, let's consider the obvious line of attack.

Would such a withdrawal lead to chaos? Hardly. That adjective might apply -- I repeat, might -- if Feingold were endorsing an immediate withdrawal of all troops, but his proposal sets Dec. 31, 2006 as the date by which all U.S. troops are out. Not next month. Not next spring. We're talking one year and four months from now.

If chaos concerns you, then it's hard to imagine things getting more chaotic than they are now in Iraq. Sunni leaders who convene public meetings are gunned down as they try to encourage Sunnis to participate in the next round of voting. Shiite leaders in the South openly talk about seceding from the country.

If Dec. 31 of next year isn't enough time for U.S. troops to do the job that Bush believes they're able to do in Iraq, then Republicans should please say so. And Democrats should welcome the opportunity to force GOP leaders to come clean on this.

Let Republicans criticize Feingold's plan. Let them tell the American people that one full year and four months is not enough time for the Pentagon to adequately train Iraqi police and soldiers. (The Pentagon has already been at it for roughly two years.) That kind of attack on Feingold is likely to backfire, exhausting what little patience the public still has for the Iraqi military occupation.

Backing Feingold's plan would be one of the smartest things Democrats could do. When Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (a Vietnam vet) compared Iraq to Vietnam this weekend, that was a powerful concession. When the White House and GOP attack the Feingold plan, Democrats should relish the chance to throw one of Hagel's quotes right back at them: "The longer we stay (in Iraq) the more problems we are going to have."

Will Dems sit out this Iraqi-exit debate and offer nothing more specific for Iraq than a bland expression of dismay? How 'bout it, Mr. Dean?

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