Thursday, June 22, 2006

Debate over Iraq amendments will shape Democratic platform

Debate over Iraq amendments
will shape Democratic platform

For Howey Political Report, June 22, 2006

For months now, Evan Bayh has insisted that the Democratic Party must assert its national security credentials if it is ever to regain the Congress or White House. Today may be the day.

Today, the Senate is expected to vote on a pair of amendments sponsored by Democrats that call for the U.S. to begin a withdrawal from Iraq. Both are opposed by the controlling Republican Party and there is little chance either will pass. But the debate is certain to play a defining role in this year's midterm elections and possibly even impact the run-up to the 2008 presidential race.

Republicans have remained largely unified and on-message. They say the opposition party is proposing that America "cut and run" from Iraq by imposing an "arbitrary" timeline for withdrawal. Democrats, on the other hand, are divided about when and how the war should end. As a result, they have as yet been unable to communicate a strategy that appeals to the wide range of voters who have indicated they are increasingly pessimistic about the war.

Any common ground?

Yet it is possible that today's vote may eventually bring Democrats closer together as they openly air differences and seek common ground.

Senate Democrats by and large are critical of the prosecution of the war and both amendments propose U.S. operations be scaled back. But the party's leadership is opposed to an amendment offered by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) that calls for establishing a fixed date (July 2007) for troop departure. The leadership is supporting instead a less specific, non-binding resolution proposed by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Carl M. Levin (D-MI). As noted in the Washington Post, their amendment calls for the president "to begin a 'phased redeployment' of U.S. troops by the end of this year. But it does not specify how quickly the drawdown should proceed or when it should be completed."

If any Democrat in the Senate knows what voters expect from their representatives in Washington concerning Iraq, it's Evan Bayh. In this year alone, he has frequented New Hampshire and Iowa and has also met with fellow Democrats in Georgia, Michigan, Florida, California, Indiana and North Carolina, to name a few. His vote will be closely watched by numerous interested parties.

Bayh has established his own credentials on Iraq over the past few years. He supported the 2003 invasion, a vote that more recently has earned him the wrath of some in his party.

"I did what I thought was right at the time based on the facts as I understood them at the time," Bayh told the Washington Post Insider in February of this year (see HPR, April 13). "It turned out some of those facts weren't accurate, so of course you'd make different decisions."

Called for Rumsfeld to resign

About two years ago he made headlines by criticizing what he termed the administration's mishandling of the war and calling for the immediate resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. But it was at a speech this February, when he injected the phrase "tough and smart" into the debate, that the senator began to be widely recognized for his comments on national security (Schoeff, HPR Daily Wire, Feb. 3).

"George W. Bush's saying he wants the 2006 election to be about national security is like Herbert Hoover proudly claiming that the 1930 election should be a referendum on the economy," Bayh said in the widely reported speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"[T]here is absolutely no question the war has been prosecuted with stunning incompetence," he said. "We never had enough troops to secure that country. It's obvious they had no plan for winning the peace."

HPR's Mark Schoeff, Jr., wrote at the time that Bayh said a "tough and smart" approach to Iraq would "establish benchmarks for success, a timeline for progress, accountability for results and candor about how we are doing."

It was on ABC's This Week that Bayh let it be known he had come to the conclusion that there was "no military answer" to Iraq (Howey, HPR Daily Wire, April 17).

Need for deadline

"There may be a political solution, so yes, I think we need to give [the Iraqi government] a hard deadline for making their political decisions," Bayh said. "If they don't do that, there's nothing we can do to help them. By focusing on the security solution, perhaps we can avoid the chaos of a civil war."

HPR Publisher Brian Howey noted that Bayh said a deadline for troop withdrawal "needs to be a private discussion" with Iraqi leaders, who should be told "If you don't make the hard political decisions, we are going to leave at a time and manner that is most convenient for us."

However he votes today, the senator will have plenty of opportunity in the months ahead to elaborate his position. His next scheduled appearance is June 30 at a fundraiser in Illinois' 10th Congressional District, and he most certainly will be visiting Iowa and New Hampshire again over the course of the summer. He will have to counter Republican claims that a withdrawal would amount to a surrender in the war on terror. And, he will face complaints from within the party concerning his initial support of the war. But perhaps somewhere along the line today's debate will prompt Democrats to succeed in crafting a message on Iraq that is agreeable to many in its famously splintered base.

Why the party lost

About a month ago Bayh joined a widely publicized conference on national security sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute.

"If you ask me why we lost the last presidential election, I'd say more than anything else, it was because of our perceived problems with national security, broadly defined, and the war on terror, more specifically," he said then. "And so that is a place that we need to get to. We can be both good on domestic policy but also strong and smart on national security policy. The two must go hand in hand."

"God forbid there might be something in this country that will remind the American people that it is a dangerous world. And we need parties and leaders who are prepared and capable of dealing with it, not a world as we wish it is - as we wish it was, even though we work toward that objective - but a world as it is that regrettably has evil people in it who wish us ill, and we have to be deal with that."

To visit New Orleans tomorrow

Sen. Bayh is scheduled to leave tomorrow to visit New Orleans, where he will meet with local officials to discuss the federal government's emergency response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and to hear comments about subsequent funding issues. The senator's office also indicated he will meet with owners of small businesses and others in keeping with Bayh's role on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.


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