Fareed Zakaria: How come the candidates aren’t adapting their rhetoric on Iraq?

posted at 10:05 pm on January 22, 2008 by Allahpundit

How come? Because (a) you can’t abandon a talking point you’ve been clinging to for five years, especially this close to an election, and (b) neither side is confident that the status quo is really the status quo. Nor is Petraeus, for that matter. So each party lumbers on to November, the Democrats declaring defeat and the Republicans declaring victory and Zakaria declaring an urgent need for international peacekeepers that no one but no one will be volunteering, least of all NATO with its hands full in Afghanistan. The only developments realistically that might change the political game are the end of the Mahdi Army ceasefire, the long-awaited jihadi Tet, or the signing of the long-term security partnership with Iraq that Bush is trying to nail down, all of which play into the Democrats’ narrative of unending war.

Pity the U.S. presidential candidates. They had their positions on Iraq all worked out by last summer and have repeated them consistently ever since. But events on the ground have changed dramatically, and their rhetoric feels increasingly stale. They’re fighting the Iraq War all right, but it’s the wrong one.

The Democrats are having the hardest time with the new reality. Every candidate is committed to “ending the war” and bringing our troops back home. The trouble is, the war has largely ended, and precisely because our troops are in the middle of it…

Iraq remains deeply divided. The national reconciliation that Iraqi politicians promised has not occurred. Some movement has taken place on sharing oil revenue but on almost nothing else. The complicated new law on de-Baathification has been, in the words of a senior Iraqi official, “a big mess, perhaps worse than if we had done nothing.” The non-Kurdish parts of the country remain utterly dysfunctional, and chaos and warlordism are growing in the south. Of the 2.5 million Iraqis who have fled the country, a trickle—a few thousand—have returned home.

This is why Republican rhetoric about Iraq is also somewhat unhinged. John McCain deserves credit for supporting the surge. But the notion, articulated by many Republicans, that if we just stay the course a bit longer we will achieve “victory” is loopy. Iraq is seen—and will be for years—by the rest of the Middle East as a cautionary tale and not a model.

Exit question: Is there anything besides some unexpected parliamentary moves towards sectarian reconciliation that could happen in Iraq between now and November to buttress the GOP’s “victory” narrative? With the left backing away from congressional confrontations and the economy taking precedence for voters, the status quo would keep the issue in no man’s land. Bush seems intent upon that security agreement, though, which will reignite the whole debate three months before Election Day. Maybe Kaus was right about him being a coalition killer.


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Bush seems intent upon that security agreement, though, which will reignite it three months before Election Day.

Bush should just let sleeping dogs lie if he cares at all for the Republican party.

MB4 on January 22, 2008 at 10:15 PM

Hillary (Hear No Iraq), Obama (See no Iraq) Edwards (Speak no Iraq).

Three chimps.

profitsbeard on January 22, 2008 at 10:16 PM

Is there anything besides some unexpected parliamentary moves towards sectarian reconciliation that could happen in Iraq between now and November to buttress the GOP’s “victory” narrative?

No.

The patient has been stabilized, but still has multi-organ cancer.

MB4 on January 22, 2008 at 10:17 PM

MB4, that’s a big if, in light of the gun case brief and now the decision to let the earmarks stand, on top of amnesty, and the other stuff for the last 7 years.

McCain actually has acknowledged the success of the surge and said that Bush should get credit for changing tactics and the commander on the ground, FWIW.

funky chicken on January 22, 2008 at 10:18 PM

It’s awfully quite over there in regardes to
cars that go boom,and the election is getting
nearer,and I don’t want to see Spain part deux.
And since they have access to websites,loose
lips sink ships!

canopfor on January 22, 2008 at 10:19 PM

The Dem pols are paranoid about getting glued to the flip-flopper label in regard to Iraq like John Kerry did. So in not tying their positions to changes tied for their part to the news cycle, they’ve hardened themselves into the Dem pol default on military issues: defeatist positions.

ForNow on January 22, 2008 at 10:22 PM

Have you not been watching the news for the last few weeks? “It’s the economy, stupid”

conservnut on January 22, 2008 at 10:23 PM

Is there anything besides some unexpected parliamentary moves towards sectarian reconciliation that could happen in Iraq between now and November to buttress the GOP’s “victory” narrative?

I’m hearing from the left that they think the stability gained by the surge is temporary. Another 8 months or so of progress in keeping violence down will go far towards shitting them up.

Nessuno on January 22, 2008 at 10:24 PM

When you realize that the culture we are in conflict with believes in indoctrinating their children as soon as those children can comprehend language, and believe in producing as many children as they can who will grow up to be holy warriors, then you understand that this ‘war’ won’t be over by the end of this year, or next year.

When you understand this enemy views children as weapons to be set against us, you understand this conflict is never ending.

rockhauler on January 22, 2008 at 10:29 PM

The Democrats cannot acknowledge a surge that is working, but they can see a catastrophic recession coming before it happens.

Surge success …. bad for donks.

Economy tanks …. good for donks.

They drink at the trough of misery and failure.

fogw on January 22, 2008 at 10:33 PM

The Republican party is done. Overwith. The only good news… after four years of Democrat rule the Democrat party will be done. Overwith.

The conservatives should start their own party now to be in great position for ’12. America has been plodding along since WWII. There’ll be no more plodding in the next decade. Might as well get used to it, and ready for it.

You gotta have some bad times to appreciate the good times.

Griz on January 22, 2008 at 10:42 PM

Especially if you completely fail to get off your azzes and make things better.

Griz on January 22, 2008 at 10:43 PM

The Iraqui government has become a US welfare state. Pin this one on Jorge Boosh, who didn’t have the courage to get the job done and then get out. His “spreading democracy” idea is a stupid and dangerous as his coddling of illegals in this country.

The Democraps will cut & run, and the Repubs can’t extricate themselves from Boosh’s idiocy.

Another lose-lose situation.

MrScribbler on January 22, 2008 at 11:29 PM

the long-awaited jihadi Tet

Ain’t gonna happen. They’re too busy gettin’ killed or captured and the survivors are runnin’ back to whatever country they came in from.

Besides, we WON Tet, we destroyed the V.C. as an effective fighting force. The media portrayed it as a loss for us, but they lied. The closest thing to a jihadi tet was the battle of Fallujah, with US on the offensive.

Tony737 on January 22, 2008 at 11:39 PM

Griz-

I see a strong Romney-Rudy win in 2008.

And a renewed will to defeat the global jihad.

Which will be so pissed that its Defeatocratic allies lost that they will strike at us hard, overplay their weak hand, and be crushed by a reinvigorated, anti-Jihad America.

And OBL’s charred remains identified by DNA.

profitsbeard on January 22, 2008 at 11:58 PM

profitsbeard on January 22, 2008 at 11:58 PM

Dude.

hillbillyjim on January 23, 2008 at 1:08 AM

Griz on January 22, 2008 at 10:42 PM

Right on Griz!

I’ll meet you over there at that new party. The GOP and Dem’s smell badly!

AZCON on January 23, 2008 at 1:39 AM

“Is there anything besides some unexpected parliamentary moves towards sectarian reconciliation that could happen in Iraq between now and November to buttress the GOP’s “victory” narrative?”

A couple more benchmarks sure wouldn’t hurt. Frankly I think the “victory narrative” is more Democratic strawman than Republican talking point. Most Republicans just insist the surge is working, and that the objective should be victory not an exit plan, which is not the same thing at all.

“With the left backing away from congressional confrontations and the economy taking precedence for voters, the status quo would keep the issue in no man’s land. Bush seems intent upon that security agreement, though, which will reignite the whole debate three months before Election Day.”

If John McCain is the nominee, watching him try to run on domestic policy and economics would be a whole lotta ugly. Promising to eliminate pork is about as persuasive as claiming you’re going to institute the Fair Tax. Hillary, or almost any other Democrat, could out pander McCain blindfolded. And while McCain is greening America back to health and depressing tournout in his Republican base, Obama would be walking away with his putative Independents.

That said, however, I think it looks like Bush is preparing for the worst — as well he should given the current state of political affairs domestically. He knows that what Petraeus et al. need most is time, and what I hope he’s doing is trying to nail down anything that could conceivably slow the course for a potential Democrat successor.

JM Hanes on January 23, 2008 at 2:38 AM

Griz:

That kind of thinking is how we got the Clintons the first time around. You should probably prepare yourself for a generation in the wilderness, ’cause nobody’s going to be running to you for advice if happens — again.

JM Hanes on January 23, 2008 at 2:44 AM

I’m just saying. And nobody runs to me for advice anyhoo… thank goodness.

AP’s Mickey Kaus link tells the whole story of our party’s situation. And it ain’t pretty. And while we’re on the subject, how’s the old wazoo? Well, I can tell by the pie on your tie. You’re an American, well so am I.

JM Hanes, I have to say, your kind of thinking is how we ended up with George Bush the second time around. George has destroyed the Republican party and there isn’t a chance in hell we’ll have the White House or the Congress come 2009. That’s why Rove got out while the getting was good. Hoping that people won’t remember the architect of the building that fell down, crushing it’s inhabatints.

And profitsbeard, I like Rudy and Romney, but the masses won’t. They’re not conservatives and folks are dead tired of voting for the least of two evils and then getting punched in the gut for doing so. That’s what gW did for you. In 8 years gW accomplished 1 goal. He put some good judges on the court. He accomplished absolutely nothing else and failed miserably at protecting Americans and helping Americans to have a better life. Which is all a government is suppose to do. Protect it’s citizens and help it’s citizens in their pursuit of happiness. gW did exactly the opposite. And then tried to cover up his failure with amnesty and tax-cuts. Of which neither took. The boy can’t win for losing.

And AZCON, I’ll see you there.

Griz on January 23, 2008 at 7:12 AM

It will be very interesting to see how it is played when some troops start being pulled out in the spring.

KBird on January 23, 2008 at 8:24 AM

Is there anything besides some unexpected parliamentary moves towards sectarian reconciliation that could happen in Iraq between now and November to buttress the GOP’s “victory” narrative?

Other than all the rest of our efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

I’m afraid to find out. Actually, I am more afraid we are going to find out, sooner than later, whether we like it or not.

Lawrence on January 23, 2008 at 9:19 AM

What impresses me is Fareed Zakaria’s refusal to concede that the US military had anything to do with the improvement in Iraq. His claim that it was the Sunnis who made the peace in Iraq by deciding to ally with America is something like claiming the Germans made the peace in WWII by allying with America, after we invaded their country.

Tantor on January 23, 2008 at 10:03 AM

It will be very interesting to see how it is played when some troops start being pulled out in the spring.

KBird on January 23, 2008 at 8:24 AM

It will be played out like it has always been played out in the MSM….ssshhhh

kcd on January 23, 2008 at 2:48 PM