TPMCafe || The Democrats' Dilemma: "Democratic candidates in 2006 and 2008 are going to need to essentially admit that they don't have magical solutions that will make this all come out all right and will, consequently, need to spend a lot of time making the case that this lack of appealing options is fundamentally the Bush administration's fault. That's fair enough as far as it goes, but it's bound to re-open the extremely divisive debate within the Democratic Party about the initial decision to go to war."
Iraq is part of the scenario of the coming storm for many. Surely, the Republican Party cannot continue indefinitely to prosper on the basis of their performance in the Global War on Terror, generally, or the War in Iraq, in particular.
The Democrats do have a problem, however. It is not a problem of previous intellectual committments, however, it is a problem of narratives.
The "credibility" issue is not about past intellectual committments so much as the difficulty of finding a common narrative, to which the whole party can subscribe, without too much individual embarassment.
Many on the Left would like a mind-your-own-business narrative, which is simply not all that credible, for a couple of reasons. First, like it or not, Iraq and the Middle East are vital strategic interests. Leftist Democrats, who live in fantasyland, can pretend otherwise, but those of us in the reality-based community are unlikely to trust those dwelling there, to "protect" our interests.
Second, the "other" side in Iraq are genuinely evil. Many leftists convinced themselves that the "other" side in Vietnam were Vietnamese patriots; whatever the merits of that view, it doesn't apply in Iraq. The "other" side in Iraq are evil and/or crazy; some are ruthless criminals, others are sectarians of the worst kind.
The Democrats need a narrative that will affirm that the decision to go to war in Iraq was wrong, practically and morally, without building into that narrative assumptions, which will seem hopelessly naive to a majority of Americans. And, the Democrats need a narrative, which will point to a future policy, including withdrawal of military forces, which is not clearly self-destructive (and, no, it does not matter, how clearly self-destructive, staying is likely to be).
Any good Democratic narrative will start by characterizing Republican policy to date. That is key. It is the great advantage of being powerless and in opposition, that you can unify in opposition to the objective committments of your opponent, without having to unify in favor of any particular committment of your own. Republicans, even though they have been in power for several years, still do a better job of uniting themselves in opposition to Liberal Democrat strawmen, than real Democrats are able to unite in opposition to the reality of Republican policy.
So, instead of worrying quite yet about what ultimate Democratic policy in the Middle East might look like, let's start by figuring out a compelling narrative, which characterizes what the Republicans have been doing in the GWOT and Iraq.
It is really pointless to worry about whether Democrats favor withdrawal or aggressive military action in the present circumstances. We have no power to affect policy in the present circumstances; it will be hard enough to salvage something from the shambles, which will be the U.S. position in the world and the Middle East in 2008. So, no, Matthew, Democrats should not worry about prescribing "what do we do now"; instead the Democratic narrative should restrict itself to characterizing what the Republicans are doing now.
What are the Republicans doing? What is their policy? What is their plan? What is their objective? What have been the results? And, what is likely to be the result?
My recommendation for a narrative characterization of Bush and Bush's policy, would make ample use of the twin, alliterative adjectives, cowardly and corrupt.
When Democrats are asked for the Democratic plan, they should say, "if and when the American people again trust us with power, we will do our best to salvage what we can of American interests, American resources and American honor."
In the meantime, concentrate on characterizing Republican policy as dishonorable for being cowardly in its foundation of unreasoning fear; concentrate on characterizing Republican policy as corrupt and wasteful for squandering American resources in Iraq and elsewhere -- the borrowing, the absurdly expensive fantasy weapons programs, the ineffective reconstruction program in Iraq, the deterioration in military strength, etc.