The Democratic strategy to use the ongoing violence in Iraq to their political advantage in the run-up to the 2008 elections requires some skill and nuance. But it's growing harder to believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- Nevada's own -- actually possesses those skills.
The Democratic strategy is anything but straightforward.
Sen. Reid and his colleagues know there is much political hay to be made by criticizing President Bush's planning and conduct of the post-war occupation. But they also know that while "cut our losses and pull out" plays well in Democratic caucuses, it failed in the Connecticut general election in 2006, when Sen. Joseph Lieberman and his anti-surrender stance handily defeated end-the-war candidate Ned Lamont -- even though Sen. Lieberman had to run as an independent to pull it off.
That's the kind of "poll" that really counts.
Thus, the Democrats' careful strategy requires them to appear to oppose Mr. Bush's ongoing occupation of Iraq (to please their pacifist base), without taking any concrete, "binding" actions to change the status quo.
Enter Sen. Reid, flopping around in big red shoes like Bozo the Clown.
A few weeks ago, Sen. Reid said on a major weekend talk show that he favored a firm deadline for withdrawal of all forces from Iraq. When members of his own caucus said, "What? First we've heard," the senator went into damage control mode -- the kind that starts out with staffers explaining, "What the senator meant to say was ..."
But last week he was back at it. As the Democratic House voted 215-199 Thursday to uphold legislation ordering troops out of Iraq next year, Sen. Reid appeared in public to declare the war in Iraq is "lost."
"I can't begin to imagine how our troops in the field, who are risking their lives every day, are going to react when they get back to base and hear that the Democrat leader of the United States Senate has declared the war is lost," responded Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Now, purists may object this is not "a declared war," but that hasn't stopped the Congress from funding it. And in time of war, it's at least incredibly stupid to tell the enemy a fixed date by which the ammo and other supplies of the American troops will be cut off, encouraging the enemy to merely lay low and hold on.
Not all Democrats seem to have such trouble keeping their feet out of their mouths. In a much more defensible yet still realistic statement, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the Appropriations Committee, differed with Sen. Reid last week, responding, "Our troops won the war clearly, cleanly and quickly. But now they are stuck in a civil war." The only solution to that is a political and diplomatic compromise, Rep. Obey added, "and there is no soldier who can get that done."
Is that what Harry Reid meant to say?
Friday morning, the majority leader returned to the Senate floor, supposedly to reiterate his Thursday comments. Yet this time Sen. Reid carefully avoided using the word "lost." Less than 24 hours after declaring Iraq a lost cause, Sen. Reid insisted, "No one wants us to succeed in Iraq more than the Democrats."
Um ... what?
What he actually meant to say is that Iraq is lost if we continue to follow President Bush's strategy, the Democratic leader explained -- while once more carefully resisting the temptation to put forward any better strategy.
Sen. Reid then attempted the old cushion shot -- "deny everything and make counter-accusations" -- as he sought to shift the blame to those who had criticized him the day before.
"The partisans who launched attacks on my comments are the same ones who continue to support a failed strategy that hurts our troops," Sen. Reid said.
Ah. But it doesn't "hurt our troops" to tell them -- and the enemy -- that our Marines and G.I.s are risking their lives in a lost cause before they even suit up and start their engines for this morning's patrol?