Waiting on Petraeus: How Many Will Die Before He Tells Us What We Already Know?

Be afraid. The ghosts of campaigns past are once again haunting the Democratic Party.

Remember 2004, and how the Kerry camp couldn't decide whether to highlight the war and national security or to push domestic issues? Well, those chains are rattling again.

Even as a steady stream of bad news pours out of Iraq, Democrats are once more divided over how much of their focus to put on Iraq.

"You can't become a one trick pony," warned Rahm Emanuel, arguing that Democrats need to pay equal attention to domestic issues. And Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor yesterday called on Democrats to abandon efforts to set a public troop withdrawal date (Pryor said he could support a super-double-secret redeployment timeline known only to a select group of U.S. officials. I assume this would include Gen. Petraeus, Karl Rove, and Steve Perry -- who proved he can keep things hush-hush).

I guess Emanuel, Pryor, and those in their camp missed the reports of plummeting approval ratings for Congressional Democrats after the no-timeline Iraq funding vote.

Thankfully, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid seem to have learned the lesson of 2004 -- it's not the extended family leave, stupid. Or, at least, they've learned the lesson of 2007: there is nothing wrong with being a one trick pony, if it's the right trick. And at this point, getting us out of Iraq is the feat voters most want to see.

"In terms of the issue that the American people want to see resolved," said Pelosi, "the war is three or four times higher than any other issue."

And Reid has vowed "to hold the president's feet to the fire" on Iraq. He is planning to reintroduce three or four Iraq proposals as part of the debate on a Pentagon authorization bill slated for later this month, two of which include timetables for withdrawal.

The Democrats don't expect any of these amendments to pass, but are hoping to soften what support remains for the war -- eventually winning the battle in September, when Gen. Petraeus offers his report on the progress of the surge.

"We want them to vote and vote and vote again," a senior Democratic senator told Politico, in explaining the Party's plan to force Republicans to repeatedly go on the record in support of the war. "They are going to have to vote on Iraq until they are sick of it."

Given the reality of the Democrats' precarious majority, this is no doubt a sound political strategy. But do we really have to wait until September to hear Petraeus tell us what we already know? Just look at the news:

The Pentagon's first comprehensive overview of the surge, released yesterday, found that violence in Iraq has actually increased since the escalation. The report also found that the Iraqi government has made "little progress" on achieving the political goals the latest security push was supposed to facilitate. Indeed, the Pentagon admitted "some analysts see a growing fragmentation of Iraq."

In the punch-in-the-gut words of the New York Times' Damien Cave: "Iraq's political leaders have failed to reach agreements on nearly every law that the Americans have demanded as benchmarks, despite heavy pressure from Congress, the White House, and top military commanders... Doubts are spreading about whether the current benchmarks can ever halt the cycle of violence gripping Iraq's communities." That was "ever" -- let alone by September.

Even Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was driven to his bleak assessment: "There are two mentalities in this region, conspiracy and mistrust." Not exactly the cornerstones for reconciliation. (In a PR exercise on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, Maliki slipped on his rose-colored glasses and compared the situation in Iraq to America in the 1860s and our own "civil war that took hundreds of lives but ended in the triumph of freedom and the birth of a great power." Maybe Maliki sees himself as Lincolnesque, but the Pentagon report found that he has often failed to deliver on his promises of progress.)

As for the administration's hoped for Patraeus ex machina, the general has reached the point where he is grasping for silver linings. He told USA Today the surge is working, citing as proof of "normalcy" "professional soccer leagues with real grass field stadiums, several amusement parks -- big ones, markets that are very vibrant." And while calling yesterday's follow-up attack on the Samarra Mosque a "serious blow" to U.S. efforts, he tried desperately to stay positive, telling ABC News: "There is even some hope, perhaps, that al Qaeda may have overplayed its hand." And, "perhaps," Tojo had us right where he wanted us after Hiroshima.

Is that what we are waiting until September to hear? Anecdotes about big amusement parks and grass-covered soccer fields and "some hope" that "perhaps" we might possibly have allowed the insurgents to become overconfident?

That would be funny -- in a dark, pathetic way -- if we hadn't just completed the deadliest six-month stretch of the now-over four year war, with 586 Americans killed. On average, we are now losing more than 3 U.S. soldiers a day -- and more than 100 a month. And more than 100 Iraqi civilians are killed every day.

We have now reached the Iraq war equivalent of April 23, 1971, when disaffected vet John Kerry sat in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

The Democrats need to stick with Reid's plan to ratchet up the pressure on the president -- and especially on Congressional Republicans who will have to face the wrath of voters in 2008. It is the right thing to do -- both on moral grounds and on political grounds.

The Democrats should ride their one-trick pony until it drops.

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