If you've been wondering lately why defeatist media outlets like the New York Times have suddenly been bullish on Iraq, here's the payoff: Democrats have begun to shift their political strategy in light of the success of the surge. While I have to give the Washington Post credit for reporting on the Democrats' failure to spin reality into defeat, I have to note that the following article came on page A4 of today's edition:
Democratic leaders in Congress had planned to use August recess to raise the heat on Republicans to break with President Bush on the Iraq war. Instead, Democrats have been forced to recalibrate their own message in the face of recent positive signs on the security front, increasingly focusing their criticisms on what those military gains have not achieved: reconciliation among Iraq's diverse political factions.
And now the Democrats, along with wavering Republicans, will face an advertising blitz from Bush supporters determined to remain on offense. A new pressure group, Freedom's Watch, will unveil a month-long, $15 million television, radio and grass-roots campaign today designed to shore up support for Bush's policies before the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, lays out a White House assessment of the war's progress. The first installment of Petraeus's testimony is scheduled to be delivered before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees on the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a fact both the administration and congressional Democrats say is simply a scheduling coincidence.
The leading Democratic candidates for the White House have fallen into line with the campaign to praise military progress while excoriating Iraqi leaders for their unwillingness to reach political accommodations that could end the sectarian warfare.
"We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Anbar province, it's working," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday.
"My assessment is that if we put an additional 30,000 of our troops into Baghdad, that's going to quell some of the violence in the short term," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) echoed in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "I don't think there's any doubt that as long as U.S. troops are present that they are going to be doing outstanding work."
Advisers to both said theirs were political as well as substantive statements, part of a broader Democratic effort to frame Petraeus's report before it is released next month by preemptively acknowledging some military success in the region. Aides to several Senate Democrats said they expect that to be a recurring theme in the coming weeks, as lawmakers return to hear Petraeus's testimony and to possibly take up a defense authorization bill and related amendments on the war.