Democrats held hostage over Iraq

By Dan Streib

The Republican presidential candidates have salesmanship problems with the war in Iraq. Regardless of one’s view on the conflict, this is getting nearly impossible to dispute. The fact of the matter is the Republicans are champions of unpopular views on an unpopular war that is being conducted by an unpopular president. Conventional wisdom says that the Democrats have this coming election in the bag. Well, conventional wisdom isn’t quite right on this one.

It is safe to say that the Democrats have a better chance (perhaps a lot better) at winning the presidential election in 2008. But that does not mean that their victory is a pre-destined outcome anymore than certainty of the eventual outcome of the war in Iraq. And ironically enough, Iraq may prove to be as great of a stumbling block for the Democrats next year as it is for the Republicans.

Two bits of news this week drive that point home. The Washington Post stated in an Oct. 14 editorial that although the war may not be being won, those “…who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were – to put it simply – wrong.” It says that casualties are, in fact, down.

The other newsworthy item is the unveiling of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy plan. She’s just the latest to reveal such a plan in the esteemed Foreign Affairs journal (to which our library subscribes). Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani and Barack Obama have already done so.

Just like the similarities among Republican candidates’ views on foreign policy, the Democratic candidates do not differ much from one another in their perspectives on international relations. Being the front-runner, Hillary didn’t have much of a need to separate herself from the pack, and she didn’t seem to try, either. But what is important is this: In the same week of the Post’s editorial, Clinton’s plan is released and calls for withdrawal from Iraq. With this in mind, one begins to wonder if we’re really reading the writings of the supposedly pragmatic Hillary Clinton. Talk about ignoring the situation on the ground – maybe we’ve all been duped and the author is really just Dick Cheney wearing a wig. With her recent facts-be-damned rhetoric, that theory is beginning to make a lot of sense.

But seriously now, no one can say for certain how the conflict in Iraq will turn out. Yet despite this uncertainty, as long as U.S. forces remain, few experts predict things to completely spiral out of control in the next 12 months.

The situation will either stay the same or improve. So if the situation does not improve, the Democrats and Republicans will probably continue to do the same politically as they are now. But if things do get better, the Republican candidates’ chances go up. Then the Democrats might get hurt big time – much worse than the Republicans are hurting now. This is because the Republicans have shaky electoral prospects due to the fact that many people think they seem to be wrong about Iraq. But if things get better on the ground, then the Democrats will be wrong on Iraq.

However likely or unlikely that may be, it is in that latter scenario where we will truly get a sense of what this nation values. Everyone thinks the Republicans are failing in the polls directly or indirectly because of the current administration.

But are their lackluster polling numbers due to contempt for President Bush or contempt for his policies? If it’s Bush in general, the Democrats have it made no matter what happens in Iraq. But if it’s Bush’s policies that the country is dissatisfied with, then one cannot help but come to an inescapable conclusion: The Democratic candidates are just as hostage to outcomes in Iraq as the Republicans are. And that means that this election is far from over.