Pullback on Pulling Out

The Associated Press reports that several Congressional Democrats have realized that the “surge” actually seems to be accomplishing something:

One senator said U.S. troops are routing out al-Qaida in parts of Iraq. Another insisted President Bush’s plan to increase troops has caused tactical momentum.

One even went so far on Wednesday as to say the argument could be made that U.S. troops are winning.

These are not Bush-backing GOP die-hards, but Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Bob Casey and Jack Reed. Even Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, said progress was being made by soldiers.

The suggestions by them and other Democrats in recent days that at least a portion of Bush’s strategy in Iraq is working is somewhat surprising, considering the bitter exchanges on Capitol Hill between the Democratic majority and Republicans and Bush. Democrats have long said Bush’s policies have been nothing more than a complete failure.

John Hinderaker suggests that there are two possible explanations for this phenomenon:

[E]ither the Democrats are acting in good faith, and are honest enough to acknowledge success when they see it, or polls and focus groups have convinced them that they need to distance themselves from the MoveOn, anti-military wing of their party.

The former is hard to credit from this crowd, but there’s certainly something to the latter, as the article itself suggests. The middle half of the article is given over to Democrat Congresscritters lauding our troops but bashing Bush and the Iraqi government.

But I think the real reason for this rather sudden change of heart is something slightly different from simply saying what the voters want to hear about our soldiers. The troops have rarely wanted for praise from politicians who’ve been insisting for years that they not be allowed to finish the mission for which they’ve toiled and bled and watched their buddies die. No, the real story here is in the article’s last quotation:

California Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney had a different take. After visiting Iraq last month and visiting with Petraeus, McNerney said signs of progress led him to decide he’ll be a little more flexible about when troops should be brought home.

“I’m more willing to work with finding a way forward to accommodate what the generals are saying,” McNerney said.

In short, with the polls showing support for the mission improving of late as the realities of actual progress make themselves known, this is the first step of the climbdown from their heretofore steadfast insistence on mandating defeat. They have a little over a month now before General Petraeus’ briefing. A few weeks ago they could still convince themselves he wouldn’t say anything that would hinder them from forcing a pullout. But things have changed.

So, I think we can expect rather a lot more of this sort of talk over the next few weeks. And then, if General Petraeus says what everyone who’s actually been paying attention since before the polls swung ’round is expecting him to, they’ll have given themselves advance cover for the switch. That they can do so while still castigating Bush out of the other side of their mouths is just the spoonful of sugar.

UPDATE (8/12/07): Now the Democrat Presidential candidates are getting in on the act. Jules Crittenden sees the same dynamic in play:

This think piece from the NYT would appear to be part of the growing campaign to get on the right side of this war and support a Democratic congressional surrender in September. They have finally figured out they can’t pull the rug out from under the troops in the field, particularly when they are winning. Now, they need to make it look like it was their idea….

[T]hey are beginning to sense that withdrawal at all costs, the congressional plan, is not going to survive September. The talk about withdrawal is being replaced by practical concerns, which give everyone an out and ultimately, give them the opportunity to side with the generals.

UPDATE (8/18/07): Another prominent Democrat opponent of the war fulfills my prediction. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) has announced a change of position after surveying the situation for himself:

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird said Thursday that his recent trip to Iraq convinced him the military needs more time in the region, and that a hasty pullout would cause chaos that helps Iran and harms U.S. security.

“I believe that the decision to invade Iraq and the post-invasion management of that country were among the largest foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. I voted against them, and I still think they were the right votes,” Baird said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

“But we’re on the ground now. We have a responsibility to the Iraqi people and a strategic interest in making this work.”

Baird, a five-term Democrat, voted against President Bush ordering the Iraq invasion — at a time when he was in a minority in Congress and at risk of alienating voters. He returned late Tuesday from a trip that included stops in Israel, Jordan and Iraq, where he met troops, U.S. advisers and Iraqis, whose stories have convinced him that U.S. troops must stay longer….

Baird said he would not say this if he didn’t believe two things:

• “One, I think we’re making real progress.”

• “Secondly, I think the consequences of pulling back precipitously would be potentially catastrophic for the Iraqi people themselves, to whom we have a tremendous responsibility… and in the long run chaotic for the region as a whole and for our own security.”

(Via Captain Ed)

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, , , , , , , , , , ,
Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    several Congressional Democrats have realized that the “surge” actually seems to be accomplishing something

    Well, they’re realizing wrong. As O’Hanlon et al. have admitted, there has been zero progress on the political reconciliation. A far more likely explanation is that these Democrats are political cowards and are unwilling to make any sort of stand. Dozens of Congresscritters default to the, “let’s wait one more Friedman unit and let the general do some stuff.” 6 months from now, you’ll probably hear the exact same thing.

  2. Tano says:

    Well thanks for not much here. Just the lowest form of Dem bashing with no reference to reality.

    The reality is that Dems have ALWAYS said that the military might be able to accomplish the limited mission of calming the chaos a bit. Calming the chaos does not equal victory. Achieving a poltical reconcilliation is the only thing that could lead to a favorable outcome. So the question has always been, are the political factions in any postion, or mood to exploit a window of calmness that our troops could give them.

    The Dem position has always been that there seems to be no desire or interest on the part of the politicians to actually work a deal. So they were opposed to the idea of expending lives and resources in order to create such a window if that window was not going to be used.

    The fact that the military is having some success in opening that window changes nothing in this equation. It was not unexpected. And there remains no indication whatsoever that the Iraqi politicians have any intent to use that window.

    As is amply noted in the parts of the article you chose not to highlight.

    i.e. what they really said:

    “Levin, while saying military progress was being made, said the troop build-up could not be considered a success because its purpose was to make way for political reconciliation, and that hasn’t happened.”

    “Reed, a Rhode Island senator who visited Iraq last month, said there’s been tactical momentum, but it “has yet to translate itself into real political momentum, which is the key, I think, to progress.”

    “Durbin …told CNN on Wednesday that “naturally” troops are routing out al-Qaida in parts of Iraq, but then explained there’s no evidence of the government in the areas.”

  3. Dodd says:

    The reality is that Dems have ALWAYS said that the military might be able to accomplish the limited mission of calming the chaos a bit.

    Or not. Dick Durbin called the surge a product of “delusion” a mere six months ago.

    Levin and Reed were pressing a bill mandating a pullout a month ago with Bob Casey’s vocal support.

    Jerry McNerney’s switch is the most profound. Five months ago he called the surge a “misguided plan” that was nothing more than a continuation of a “failed approach” and that “escalat[ing] the war in Iraq will not bring success there.”

    Obviously, political reconciliation is essential. Criticism of the Iraqi officials who took the whole month of August off is entirely appropriate. But political solutions in Iraq cannot come about without military success; nor are they likely to gain any real ground while the Defeat Caucus here at home demands pulling the rug out from underneath the people over there who have to stay behind to make it work.

    The long and the short of it is, this sudden openess to the Generals is nothing other than cynical politicaly expediency.

  4. Grewgills says:

    Or not. Dick Durbin called the surge a product of “delusion” a mere six months ago.

    He said that the idea that sending more troops would “bring this to an end sooner” was delusion. The surge has netted no progress on political reconciliation (necessary to “bring this to an end”). You have done nothing to prove his earlier statement wrong.

    Levin and Reed were pressing a bill mandating a pullout a month ago with Bob Casey’s vocal support.

    Read the rest of what they said. Tano provided you with some of it. When Petraeus comes out with his report and it is at best a mixed bag with no real end in sight there will likely be renewed calls for redeploying our troops.

    Jerry McNerney’s switch is the most profound. Five months ago he called the surge a “misguided plan” that was nothing more than a continuation of a “failed approach” and that “escalat[ing] the war in Iraq will not bring success there.”

    Has the surge brought political reconciliation (mandatory for any meaningful success)? Has it made America safer? (his other point)

    Obviously, political reconciliation is essential.

    The idea behind the surge is that it would provide space for that reconciliation. Some space has been provided. Political reconciliation is no closer. If this approach had been applied from the beginning with appropriate troop levels as many advised at the time (or better yet we did not invade at all) we would be looking at a different and likely much better situation. Unfortunately this did not happen and the surge has provided too little, far too late.
    BTW How long do you think we should provide that space with no progress towards reconciliation before we decide that the strategy did not work? 6 months? a year? 10 years? 40 years?

    And then, if General Petraeus says what everyone who’s actually been paying attention since before the polls swung ’round is expecting him to, they’ll have given themselves advance cover for the switch.

    It appears that Petraeus will be giving a mixed report citing some success vs AQ, some success limiting violence in localized areas, and virtually no political progress. All in all considerably less than half of stated goals reached or with significant progress. Without considerable spin this will not change many people’s minds.
    Could you cite the polls that have swung around? I haven’t noticed a dramatic shift in support for the war, or support for drawing down troop levels in any of the polls I have seen.

    Breaking News, politicians cover their a$$es. According to Dodd this means Democrats are cynical.

  5. Nikolay says:

    Obviously, political reconciliation is essential. Criticism of the Iraqi officials who took the whole month of August off is entirely appropriate. But political solutions in Iraq cannot come about without military success; nor are they likely to gain any real ground while the Defeat Caucus here at home demands pulling the rug out from underneath the people over there who have to stay behind to make it work.

    Well, given the fact that so far the surge produced 100% negative political dynamic (i.e. there’s only a sectarian government now), what you say doesn’t seem so obvious. Also, arming and training Sunni militias despite the protests from the government might also not be the best idea for providing political solution. In fact, it could be argued that in the long run the surge would only make things worse, by setting up the scene for a larger massacre.

  6. Jim Henley says:

    Whoa. James has instituted an exchange program with RedState.com now?

  7. carpeicthus says:

    This is some pretty awful analysis. Would you mind explaining, in real terms, what political advantage Dick Durbin would have in supporting aspects of the surge if he wasn’t acting in good faith? What way do you think the wind is actually blowing with his constituents? Do you honestly think he’s reflexively uncomfortable with the liberal side of the party?

    They’re analyzing the situation and though it may be hard for you understand, they don’t have to cram every last fact into an ideological narrative. Succeeding tactically but not politically is no small thing — look at the invasion, for pete’s sake.

  8. Pug says:

    I didn’t look at who had written this until I was about half way down the page. Then I realized James doesn’t use phrases like “mandating defeat”.

    Defeat Caucus? For this I could go to Powerline, but I won’t.

    The long and the short of it is, this sudden openess to the Generals is nothing other than cynical politicaly expediency.

    So even if the Dems wanted to agree with your lame analysis you won’t allow it. No political expediency there, right?

  9. Anderson says:

    As someone noted elsewhere on the internets, the Brits “surged” in Basra, which indeed produced results … for the exact duration of the surge. After which, they got chased into their strongholds, and are now planning to get the hell out entirely.

    It’s like thinking that putting twice as many cops on the beat in South Central LA is going to solve the crime problem. You’ll get results, until the cops leave.

    Why is this so difficult for intelligent people to grasp?

  10. Davebo says:

    The long and the short of it is, this sudden openess to the Generals is nothing other than cynical politicaly expediency.

    If this is the case, why are so few willing to go on the record in this article?

  11. Bithead says:

    As someone noted elsewhere on the internets, the Brits “surged” in Basra, which indeed produced results … for the exact duration of the surge. After which, they got chased into their strongholds, and are now planning to get the hell out entirely.

    Whereas in Anbar, we’ve come kicked AQ butt, and left… and they’ve not come back.

    You see? It’s not all that hard to understand, after all.

  12. Anderson says:

    B-head: Whereas in Anbar, we’ve come kicked AQ butt, and left… and they’ve not come back.

    We’ve left Anbar? Tell it to the Marines:

    Petraeus might be inclined to send home, perhaps as early as January [2008], one of the extra five Army brigades that Bush sent to Baghdad. Some of the roughly 4,000 extra Marines in Anbar province might head out by then, too.

  13. Anjin-San says:

    Unfortunately, the government in Iraq does not seem to have the will, ability, or even inclination to make use of the “breathing space” that our troops are fighting and dying to provide.

    Whereas in Anbar, we’ve come kicked AQ butt, and left… and they’ve not come back.

    Bithead, how old are you, really?

    “we” have not kicked anything. You and I type from the safety of our homes. Real men have to go out and bleed and die so that you can talk tough.

  14. Grewgills says:

    Whereas in Anbar, we’ve come kicked AQ butt, and left… and they’ve not come back.

    Yes, we see how well bribing and arming warlords to do the fighting has worked for Afghanistan’s long-term stability..

  15. Bithead says:

    “we” have not kicked anything. You and I type from the safety of our homes. Real men have to go out and bleed and die so that you can talk tough.

    And so that you can deny the import of their task, continually.

    And Anderson:

    Some of the roughly 4,000 extra Marines in Anbar province might head out by then, too.

    That ends up being a significant reduction from what was there, no? And, why would they be considering removing such troops as you mention unless the situation was stable?

  16. Grewgills says:

    And, why would they be considering removing such troops as you mention unless the situation was stable?

    And the situation has stabilized because we are bribing the sheiks with weapons and money to fight for us.