Wednesday, December 07, 2005

''Crosscurrents over Iraq also pulling at state's Democrats''

"Iraq has taken a toll on President Bush and his Republican allies, as spotty success on the ground and concerns about the length of America's involvement have fueled public doubts and declining poll numbers.

But Democrats are finding the issue hard as well, and the party has been unable to reconcile competing internal visions over Iraq's future or the best plan for bringing U.S. troops home.

Just how divergent those views are could come into sharp focus today as House Democrats meet to discuss the war and lay the groundwork for a more unified policy.

In that respect, the six House Democrats from Washington state offer a telling snapshot of the crosscurrents pulling Democrats nationwide. Four of them -- Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen and Brian Baird -- voted in September 2002 against going to war while Norm Dicks and Adam Smith voted to give the president permission to invade.

No one expects a consensus to emerge today. "It's part of an ongoing conversation," Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's spokeswoman, Jen Crider, said. "The leader understands that decisions about Iraq are a personal decision."

Dicks and Smith have recently said they regretted their votes. Dicks' statement was especially significant because he is among the most respected voices on military matters and has vigorously supported the Pentagon.

"Now Norm Dicks is with me and Jack Murtha is with me," McDermott said, suggesting that the two Democrats who historically have most supported the military have now joined more liberal lawmakers like himself who have opposed the war from the start.

But while most -- if not all -- Democrats agree that serious mistakes were made and that the White House blundered into war and mishandled the postwar reconstruction, there is little agreement beyond that. Nor is there agreement among Democrats about whether a specific plan is needed. Some believe that they will benefit simply by doing nothing if the Iraq policy continues to falter.

Inslee admits the issue is complex. "There are no easy, guaranteed solutions," he said. "Whether it can be put back together again, there just aren't guarantees."

Larsen, who like Smith serves on the Armed Services Committee and who generally backs the military, said Bush has failed the nation and its soldiers by not precisely defining the "militarily achievable goals" that must be met.

Smith, who recently visited Iraq, urged Democrats to temper their rhetoric. "It's not helpful for Democrats to say all is lost. We need a stable Iraq that is not a haven for terrorists. We need a legitimate government that the people of Iraq believe in."

But some broad outlines are emerging, mostly a result of comments made two weeks ago by Murtha, the gruff former Marine from Pennsylvania who fought in Vietnam and historically is among the Pentagon's most loyal defenders.

Murtha proclaimed the Iraq strategy a failure and called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops within six months. Other Democrats have said that most troops should leave Iraq by the end of 2006 if certain specific benchmarks are reached.

Inslee said he could support such a framework.

While holding back for more than a week, Pelosi finally endorsed Murtha's position last week. Yet the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer of Maryland, refused. "A precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq," he said, "could lead to disaster, spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation's security and credibility."

If not for Murtha, Dicks' reversal could well have been the most significant defection. Dicks, like Murtha, has historically supported the military, even when it angered his party. He was a vocal advocate for such controversial programs as the B-2 bomber.

Yet when asked last week if he would vote again to invade Iraq given what he knows today, Dicks said, "Absolutely not."

McDermott says the lack of agreement among Democrats should not obscure the progress made within the party. Not long ago, he said, "We in the 'Out of Iraq Caucus' were frustrated out of our minds" that Democrats wouldn't even discuss the issue.

With today's meeting, Iraq has moved onto the agenda. And McDermott said, "what looks disorderly is part of the regular order of the way things happen. We're in the process of sorting options."

It's likely to be messy and intensely partisan. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on Monday likened the war to Vietnam, adding "The idea that the United States is going to win the war in Iraq is just plain wrong."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., responded immediately. "We should all be grateful that Governor Dean is not General Dean. ... Rather than standing by our troops who are fighting the war on terror, Howard Dean has made it clear the Democratic Party sides with those who wish to surrender."

And Tuesday, President Bush denounced as "pessimists" those who suggested there be a timetable for withdrawal.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech to soldiers at Fort Drum in New York, was even tougher.

"I realize that some have advocated a sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq. This would be unwise in the extreme, a victory for terrorists, bad for the Iraqi people and bad for the United States," Cheney said.

"Any decisions about troop levels," he added, "will be driven by the conditions on the ground and the judgments of our commanders, not by artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C."-from the P-I story this morning by Charlie Pope.

"Republican Hate Speak" on Daily Dissent gives us this:

"Yesterday Michael Reagan asserted that Howard Dean should be "arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war" for his comments regarding the likelihood of losing the war in Iraq. When given the opportunity on Fox News, Reagan chooses not to back down from his statement (video).

Can you even imagine the shitstorm the Republicans would create if such a statement was made regarding RNC Chair Kevin Mehlman?" I like Nancy Reagan's son better.

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