"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”

Pericles



Monday, July 9, 2007

Who "Lost" Iraq?

It may seem like an inconsequential - perhaps even obscene - question to pose, as the answer is so obvious to those of us who inhabit the liberal blogosphere. The answer, however, is NOT as clear to the rest of America - and a failure to proactively and repeatedly reinforce the message that the REPUBLICANS are responsible for "losing Iraq" could result in long-term Democratic electoral difficulties.

As the political establishment grudgingly accepts that Bush's Iraq Disaster is approaching its inevitable - and much belated - endgame, the question as to which party will be held responsible for "Losing" Iraq will become a central - if subtle - theme in American politics. In fact, the talking points are already fully developed if we take a look behind the red curtain.

If the progressive netroots doesn't engage in this debate, WE will be held responsible for the Iraq "defeat."

Please note my deliberate use of quotations in the discussion - the point is to illustrate the American public's "perception" regarding Iraq - not necessarily the reality. It behooves us to understand that the conflict over Iraq is increasingly (and arguably always was) viewed by many Inside the Beltway politicians and strategists as a battle of ideas, slogans and themes. I'm not trying to define winning/losing or debate whether or not Iraq was ever winnable. I'm acknowledging that Americans will perceive a troop withdrawal as a "loss" and we must not only accept this but also do everything in our power to make sure the blame for this "loss" is placed on the Republicans. After all, they've earned it.

I find myself motivated to write this post as a result of a recent conversation I had with a close friend - a steadfast, yet pragmatic liberal. He expressed concern over the American public's view of the Democratic Party as 'pacifist' and vulnerable on defense and national security issues. I won't go into the details, but it got me to thinking - and worrying.

Of course, we all know this fear permeates the Inside the Beltway mindset. The spectre of looking soft on defense paralyzes Democratic officials. Hillary's steadfast refusal to apologize for her original Iraq vote and the Congressional leadership's Memorial Day capitulation on the Iraq supplemental arise from this fear.

Let's face it - Americans don't like to lose. And, when we do, someone must be made the scapegoat. In the early 50s, the refrain was "Who Lost China?" in the aftermath of the Communist victory. In the mid-70s, the fall of Saigon prompted another round of finger-pointing. In both cases, the American public perceived the Democrats to be responsible for the "defeat." Truman and the Dems were vilified for the defeat in China, paving the way for McCarthy's excesses and eventually a Democratic-led escalation in Southeast Asia. The Vietnam defeat, at least in the public's long-term recollection, was blamed on the anti-war protest movement. And, because the protestors were associated with the McGovern Democrats, the Dems paid a political price. This explains why the current Democratic leadership continues to be leery of the netroots' anti-war demands. They fear being labeled as the "losers" in future elections.

Make no mistake - the perception as to who "lost" is more important than who is to "blame." The American public - at least for the time being - places the blame for getting into Iraq where it rightfully belongs - with Cheney/Bush. We've won that argument. Finally, most Americans understand the link between 9/11 and Saddam was non-existent.

Now that a majority of Americans finally agree Iraq was a mistake, ironically, the question becomes less important. Being identified as the instigator evaporates relatively quickly (especially to an electorate who posesses a long-term memory shorter than the average goldfish). But, the stigma of losing can linger for decades (as it still does with Vietnam).

The next stage of the Iraq debate is fast approaching - and it's critical to understand the long-term political and strategic consequences of allowing the other side to successfully label the Democrats as "Defeatocrats." If the right convinces the general public a troop withdrawal represents the Democrats "capitulating" to the anti-war extremist netroot base, we risk becoming marginalized within our own party. Achieving all of our other goals will become more difficult.

So, how do we confront this situation? We repeat LOUDLY and OVER and OVER and OVER again the gross incompetence of how this Administration conducted this war. This may not go over well amongst this audience, but the debate over whether the war was immoral or unjustified (of course the answer is YES to both questions) is irrelevant at this point.

The Republicans LOST this war, and it is our duty to make sure the American public remembers this simple truth.

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

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