I'm far from the first to note that the Democratic party has a lot of political capital invested in a failure in Iraq. If things go well there, and are perceived to go well there, then Bush (and by extension the GOP) get all the credit. It will reflect well on the Republican nominee in 2008 - at least if one of the leading contenders - all of whom supported the war and the escalation - gets the nomination.
But what if things go badly?
I've said before that I see no real way that American troops can stay in an active, 'in-harm's-way' role in Iraq past the first few months of next year. If we go through the primaries and into the spring or summer with Americans dying in Iraq, the GOP nominee may be unable to win, and a full withdrawal would be guaranteed. Even if things go well, I suspect that the average voter's reaction will be 'well thank God things turned out OK. Let's hand the Iraqis the keys and get our folks out of there.'
(And as I noted before, Novak says that the White House believes they must be out of Iraq by the start of the primaries - in other words, about 10 months from now.)
OK. So what happens if the Democrats get their wish - American troops out of Iraq? There seems a strong presumption that the country will descend into civil war. Iran and Syria will encourage their factions to cause all the bloodshed they can, with a view toward a pro-Teheran government (if not a puppet government). Among the possibilities are massive refugees, partition, and broader mideast war - just off the top of my head. There's no way the American media could ignore it; it would lead the news lots of nights.
So how is THAT good for the Democrats? Would it not be a constant reminder that the Democrats forced the withdrawal of the only stabilizing force in the country, and that as a result, thousands of innocents were dying and a hoped-for ally was being turned into a powerful enemy? Wouldn't the Democrats look just like the weak, foolish fringe that they were after the Vietnam War?
Is there any way they could spin this as Bush's fault?
What would their argument be? That Iraq would have been better off with Saddam still in power? It may be their only option, since the only alternate argument I can see would be 'it was a good idea to get rid of Saddam, but Bush blew the occupation so badly that a good chance for success was turned into certain failure, where even the presence of US troops could not have prevented the bloodshed and chaos that we see today (even thought they seemed to prevent it until the withdrawal).'
It seems to me that the best case for the Democrats is that the US withdraws, and the country gets a whole lot better. Of course, Bush will still get the credit, but there'll not really be any blame to cast on the Democrats. But what are the chances of that?
As far as I can see, the Democrats have painted themselves into a corner. Politically, they need to make sure that either:
- Iraq blows up in full civil war while US troops are there (proving the futility of the mission); or,
- US troops stay in Iraq until after the election.