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The Politics of Petraeus

By    |   Tuesday, 11 September 2007 09:39 AM EDT

Let us analyze the domestic political implications of Gen. David Petraeus’ and Amb. Crocker’s congressional testimony:

Clearly orchestrated by the Bush White House, the testimony’s goal is simple: hold enough GOP senators and representatives in line to guarantee that a veto of a Democratic-mandated troop cut will be upheld. Period.

The fact that Petraeus and Crocker’s first media interview will be on Fox News with Brit Hume means the White House goal is just to play “to the base.” They don’t care about the Democrats, independents or the public at large. This is simply a campaign to maintain President Bush’s ability to keep the troops there through Jan. 20, 2009 — as he has said he’d do for the last year. (Remember the “I’ll stay even if only Barney the dog and Laura support me” statement?)

Brilliantly planned by Bush spin-meisters, the Bush White House has dominated this "to-cut-back-troops-or-not-to-cut-back-troops" debate for the past month, culminating with the president’s surprise drop-in visit to Al Anbar Province last week. Team Bush has shaped and dominated the debate while Congress was on recess and guaranteed that the "stay-at-current-troop-strength" argument has won, for at least the next six months.

What effect does this have on 2008 politics?


Going into the primaries and caucuses in January, Iraq is now certain to be the No. 1 issue and will greatly affect both the GOP and the Democrat races.

In the Republican race, the main candidates all back the Bush Plan — even though 64 percent of the American people oppose it. But GOP primary voters still support the president and still want a hawkish policy toward Iraq.

So the GOP candidates — especially Rudy, Romney, McCain and now Fred Thompson — all echo Bush.

They seem not to care how this will damage or perhaps cripple them in the general election; right now these candidates will say and do anything just to get nominated. (The GOP race this year is indeed predicated on the fact that many on our side believe the Democrats will pick Hillary and then she will prove to be un-electable; Rudy and the others are just dying to run against Hillary as they "know" she can be defeated in 2008 even with the GOP, thanks to Bush, crippled and reduced to minority party status.)

The Democrats: Petraeus’ report will radicalize the Democrats even more. Why? Democratic voters and donors were already furious that the Democrat-controlled Congress hasn’t been able to stop Bush and the war. So they are now more likely to vote for an anti-war Democrat in the primaries.

Hillary, who was so hawkish she could have been a Republican back in 2002 because she wanted to disprove her life-long anti-Vietnam War/anti-military sentiments, senses this anger and has carefully tried to move left into this anti-war universe. Not all the lefties buy her conversion, nor do they trust her.

Obama is pure on the war: He was always against it. But he hasn’t proved to be the candidate they thought he’d be. He is more of a lightweight than they knew.

Edwards has flip-flopped on the war but did it long enough ago that it hasn’t hurt him.

But Iraq, and the now-certain continuation of this war, will dominate the fall and early winter as we head into Iowa and New Hampshire.

And let us make no mistake about this: Iowa Democratic caucus-goers are both very liberal and very anti-war and very politically aware of everything.

Hillary, already trailing Edwards in Iowa, could lose Iowa on Jan. 14. If she does, that could greatly damage her.

The 2008 general election: Iraq, and a possible recession, will dominate the campaign. If we tip into recession, as some economists are now predicting, there is no telling what effect that will have on the race. Supposedly that will hurt the “party in power — the GOP.” But, in fact, both parties are in power these days, so who gets the blame for a recession?

As for Petraeus: He arrived at Fort Myer last week with his senior staff — four Ph.D.s and one Rhodes Scholar — to prepare for this week’s testimony.

That staff is worrisome: Egg-head scholars are not the people we want fighting wars. We want warriors, not academics. This is all too reminiscent of Robert McNamara’s "Best and Brightest," who so screwed up Vietnam that we are still paying for it.

Politically, Iraq is a losing issue. Period. When 64 percent disagree with your policy, you are on the wrong side.

And when only 5 percent — that’s right, a paltry 5 percent — trust the Bush White House to make the correct Iraq policy decisions, then you know the policy is going bad.

Petraeus, who works for Bush and who must please Bush, has set the stage for continued divisiveness over Iraq.

Almost 5 years ago another general, Colin Powell, used (up) his credibility when he went to the U.N. and claimed hard evidence of Saddam’s WMD.

It proved to be totally false.

Powell’s credibility was forever shattered.

Now comes another general, this time armed with fancy graphs and charts instead of sample vials of anthrax, who also is spending down his remaining capital to sell a policy that few are buying.

Conclusion: Iraq, like Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, is the dominant political issue of our time.

And nothing will change until the 2008 election. The question is this: Will the American people speak in that election about Iraq, or will anti-Hillary sentiment overcome Iraq as the issue? And will that election’s winners hear the people? Or will they misinterpret the election results, especially a Rudy or a Romney, and read an anti-Hillary vote as a pro-war vote and thus continue a policy the majority of people no longer support?

What a mess!

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Let us analyze the domestic political implications of Gen. David Petraeus’ and Amb. Crocker’s congressional testimony: Clearly orchestrated by the Bush White House,the testimony’s goal is simple: hold enough GOP senators and representatives in line to guarantee that a veto...
Tuesday, 11 September 2007 09:39 AM
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