Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why Are The Democrats Reluctant To Force An End In Iraq? It's The Politics, Stupid

In case, like me, you have been mystified by the statements by Democratic leaders in Congress that the non-binding resolutions now being considered are just a necessary first step, John Bresnahan in The Politico provides the explanation.

Pelosi, Murtha and company, along with the key anti-war groups, are concerned that they will lose support in the polls if they go for an immediate cut off of funds. They believe they will be vulnerable to the charge that they are abandoning US troops in the field. Thus, the plan is to slowly choke the ability of the Defense Dept. to field the necessary number of troops by limiting the number of tours any individual or unit can serve and requiring absolute adherence to the highest standards of training and equipment readiness before any unit can be deployed into Iraq.

Pelosi and other top Democrats are not yet prepared for an open battle with the White House over ending funding for the war, and they are wary of Republican claims that Democratic leaders would endanger the welfare of U.S. troops. The new approach of first reducing the number of troops available for the conflict, while maintaining funding levels for units already in the field, gives political cover to conservative House Democrats who are nervous about appearing "anti-military" while also mollifying the anti-war left, which has long been agitating for Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to be more aggressive.

"What we have staked out is a campaign to stop the war without cutting off funding" for the troops, said Tom Mazzie of Americans Against Escalation of the War in Iraq. "We call it the 'readiness strategy.'"

Murtha's proposal, which has been kept under tight wraps, is likely to pass the House next month or in early April as part of the supplemental spending bill, Democratic insiders said, if the language remains tightly focused and does not threaten funding levels for combat forces already in the field. The battle will then shift to the Senate. Anti-war groups like Mazzie's are prepared to spend at least $6.5 million on a TV ad campaign and at least $2 million more on a grass-roots lobbying effort. Vulnerable GOP incumbents like Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnestoa, Susan Collins of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon and John Sununu of New Hampshire will be targeted by the anti-war organizations, according to Mazzie and former Rep. Tom Andrews, D-Maine, head of the Win Without War Coalition.

The fly in the ointment for the Dems, of course, would be any significant signs of success of the Petraeus strategy. If poll numbers start to reflect that Americans are beginning to believe that the new approach is in fact working, the Dems will be seen as choking off that rarest of things in our sorry involvement in Iraq, success. If Sadr has in fact fled the country and actions against Shiite neighborhoods are the initial signs of such success, the very gradualism of the Democratic approach will be its undoing. They will be hoisted on their own lack of political courage.

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