Iraq: The next Democratic battlefront

With the situation in Iraq at its bleakest, it's time for Democrats to do battle with Republicans.

Published May 27, 2005 9:11PM (EDT)

Now that the Democrats have won the battle over the nuclear option (or, at least, come away with a tie), they need to turn their attention to what it will take to become more than a minority party that wins a fight every now and then. They have been surprisingly successful at battling Bush's domestic agenda, but if they're going to broaden their appeal, they first have to broaden their battlefronts to include Iraq.

After John Kerry lost in November, the conventional wisdom was that he hadn't been "me too" enough about Iraq. But the truth is the exact opposite.

This war is a quagmire, and if the Democrats don't know it, the American people do -- 57 percent don't believe the Iraq war was worth it.

On Tuesday (May 24) the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a British think tank, released its "2004/2005 Strategic Survey." The report, a well-respected annual assessment of the security situation worldwide, cites a number of positive developments in the Middle East.

But it's important to remember that those developments are hardly the product of Bush's policies. After all, Bush wasn't responsible for the death of Yasser Arafat, nor did he order the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the anti-Syrian former prime minister of Lebanon, which touched off the pro-democracy demonstrations there.

What is most stunning about the report is the bleak picture it paints of the situation in Iraq. Some lowlights:

"From al Qaeda's point of view, Bush's Iraq policies have arguably produced a confluence of propitious circumstances ... [The U.S. is] hated by much of the Islamic world and regarded warily even by its allies ... The upsurge in violence in April and May indicates that neither the U.S. military nor the nascent Iraq security forces have managed to increase their capacity to control the country ... Such illegal practices [detainee abuses] made the achievement of any broad international coalition in Iraq even more difficult than it already was, and strengthened the cause of the insurgents."

No mention of Newsweek anywhere, by the way.

The report was published on Tuesday -- another day of murder and mayhem in Iraq. As the BBC reported, "more than 100 Iraqis [were] killed or injured in a wave of bombings since Monday morning." Fifty-eight Americans and more than 500 Iraqis have been killed since April 28, when the new Iraqi government was installed.

Yes, it's great that the Democrats staved off the nuclear option. But the reason the nuclear option was even a possibility was that the Democrats have ceded the foreign-policy battlefront to a majority party that doesn't represent the majority on the crucial foreign-policy issue of Iraq. When will Democrats realize that they will remain a minority party so long as they only dare to take on Bush and the Republicans on domestic issues?

They certainly cannot count on the media to put Iraq on the front burner. As Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News, admitted earlier this month, Iraq "simply isn't going to break through to American news organizations." Indeed, it's worse than that -- as was illustrated on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, when Howard Dean raised the specter of Iraq, and Tim Russert quickly took him back to his hot-headed rhetoric and style:

DEAN: Because of the president's actions, I would argue that we are in greater danger now because of what's going on in Iraq than we were before. Now there are terrorists in Iraq. They have migrated there since our troops were there.

RUSSERT: Let me stay on your rhetoric...

Nice pivot, Tim. Yes, by all means, let's stay on Dean's rhetoric rather than on the insignificant fact that our country is less safe as a result of our invasion of Iraq.

Now that Social Security is not going private and the Senate is not going nuclear, it's time for Democrats and the media to get their priorities in order.

By Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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Howard Dean Iraq Middle East