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Memo to Democrats

Dick Cheney's answers to Tim Russert on Sunday revealed that he has a very clear picture of what completing the mission in Iraq would look like: "Victory in Iraq will be a situation in which there is a viable government representative of the people of Iraq... It'll be an Iraq that is not a threat to the United States in terms of being a safe haven for terrorists.

It'll be an Iraq where al-Qaeda has been pretty well eliminated, where in fact the Iraqis are able to govern and deal with the difficult political situations, obviously, that exist inside Iraq, given their history. Those are all things that need to happen, and I think we're well on the way to doing it."

Given his sunny assessment (loved that his response to the Iraqi prime minister visiting Iran was a chipper, "It's a neighbor."), if the VP had had more time he might have added that completing the mission in Iraq would include purple unicorns taking sips from the Euphrates, and Sunnis and Shiites flying hand-in-hand down the streets of Baghdad on magic carpets on their way to that happiest place on earth, Disney Fallujah.

Along with countering Cheney's claims that "we're well on the way" to achieving this "victory" and that Iraq is "better off "because of "what we've done to date" (as Jay Rockefeller did), Democrats need to make sure they don't undercut their strongest '06 issue by buying into the GOP's "we need to stay the course" framing on the war.

But that's exactly what Hillary Clinton did during the Senate debate on Don Rumsfeld, when she took to the floor and, in a single statement, showed why, despite everything that is going wrong in Iraq, Democrats aren't getting more traction on the issue.

"We went to war with the secretary of defense we had," she said. "Now is the time to complete the mission with a new secretary of defense that we need." As a soundbyte it was a winner: pithy, sarcastic, and a nice callback of a Rummy classic.

But as a message it was a total loser: "..complete the mission." "Mission"? Labeling the directionless chaos in Iraq a "mission" gives it legitimacy and a sense of purpose it tragically lacks. It's a wholesale acceptance of the White House framing, playing into the notion that this is a mission that can, with a little perseverance, be "completed" -- and, indeed, that we are "well on the way" to completing.

Please tell us, Sen. Clinton: what mission are you talking about? Avoiding getting caught in the crossfire of a sectarian civil war? That's looking more and more like Mission Impossible. Bringing a stable democracy to Iraq? Even if we replace Rummy with a very young man with a lifetime in which to complete this mission, democracy won't be delivered at the end of a bayonet.

But Hillary was on a rhetorical mission -- using the term to describe Iraq four more times during her remarks, including the idea that by replacing Rumsfeld the Senate could "redeem this mission", and "give it a chance for success."

By linking the notion of mission, redemption, and success in Iraq to her criticism of Rummy was Hillary, as usual, trying to have it both ways? If so, it was, sadly, Mission Accomplished.

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