After Petraeus, Conciliation: The Report Must Not Derail a Moderate Democratic Strategy

If the Democrats are serious about winning in Iraq, building their majority, and taking the White House, they will "stay the course" -- the moderate course of the past few weeks, that is.
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On the heels of General Petraeus' report, there is no doubt a temptation in the Democratic camp to dismiss the more unsavory findings as the work of a political lackey. The general did not recommend a substantive timetable for withdrawal, much to the ire, though not surprise, of the Left. Also unsurprisingly, he argues that there has been modest progress.

The situation in Iraq is deteriorating, improving, or staying the same, depending on who is asked. To dispute minor improvement accomplishes little. If the Democrats are serious about winning in Iraq, building their majority, and taking the White House, they will "stay the course" -- the moderate course of the past few weeks, that is.

After months of demanding a hard-and-fast deadline for an American troop withdrawal, Harry Reid recently changed his tune, calling for a strongly bipartisan approach. The move was both sound policy and shrewd politics; it puts the security of American troops first, and ultimately sets the Democratic Party up for victory in 2008.

Gone is the posturing and preaching that marked Reid's pronouncements earlier in the year (when he announced solemnly that the war in Iraq was "lost.") The new Reid appears better in touch with reality: Democrats simply do not have the votes to force a unilateral withdrawal, and advocating such a position is bad for America and bad for the Democratic Party.

The Petraeus report must not distract from this logic.

The electorate has had it with the war in Iraq -- close to two thirds want an orderly withdrawal of troops to begin immediately. That being said, the American people understand that to withdrawal completely and unilaterally without a clear strategy for pacifying the country is risky.

Petraeus, of course, argued this very point before Congress on Monday. His personal approval ratings -- coupled with findings this week that the public most trusts the military to make decisions on Iraq -- ensures that the Democrats could shoot themselves in the foot by resurrecting the divisive rhetoric of early 2007.

Indeed, what Reid has recently advocated -- a bipartisan approach that takes into account relevant recommendations of the Iraq Study Group -- is overwhelmingly supported by vast majorities of the American people. An orderly drawdown of the troops must take place on a schedule that is agreeable to the military and not just the political leadership.

This movement away from unilateralism, threats of filibusters, all-nighters, and rhetorical excess could well win the 2008 election for the Democrats. Bringing back acrimonious and partisan tones could prove disastrous.

Polling from Penn Schoen & Berland shows a strong desire for the parties to work together to develop coherent, long term strategies to fight terrorism and protect American interests around the world.

Right now, Democrats clearly have the '08 advantage. The American people are fed up with George Bush and the Republicans. Democrats have opened up double-digit leads on party identification and the generic congressional vote.

But the Democratic Party is also vulnerable on Iraq, where the lead over the Republicans dropped 10 percent in August to a narrow four percent margin. Rather than harp on the withdrawal, the Democrats should continue to strike a bipartisan tone and refocus the debate to other international and domestic issues. This will help them carry the day in November 2008.

The only way that the Democrats will lose the 2008 election is through self-inflicted wounds. The electorate is demanding a fundamentally different methodology to policymaking. Partisanship will mollify only the base; conciliation must rule.

Hopefully Senator Reid's approach of late will not be thwarted by the Petraeus report. On the contrary, it must carry over to other foreign policy and domestic issues.

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