Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Warner's Remarks on Iraq at the Asia Society

All the buzz is about Warner’s recent remarks on Iraq at Asia Society in New York. Yikes, where do I even wade into this?

The “funny” part is he didn’t actually say much on the Iraq. In New Hampshire, he recently had remarks that were very similar. I think he is now getting the first taste of just how clear words have to be to convey the proper meaning under the microscope of a Presidential campaign. Not only do they have to be clear, but also limiting, or people run with unintended inferences. There are two parts to his statement, now considered "of interest" in the blogosphere. The first is whether the US should set firm deadlines to get out. As quoted in the Washington Post:

The United States needs to set milestones for progress, not a firm withdrawal date, before it can leave Iraq, Virginia governor and prospective Democratic presidential candidate Mark Warner said on Monday.

"To set an arbitrary deadline or specific date is not appropriate," he said. "... It is incumbent on the president to set milestones for what he believes will be the conclusion." Warner said the debate should focus on how to finish the job; that Sunni Muslims and Iraqis in general should be involved in reconstruction; and that the United States must convince more allies to help.

Speaking to reporters later, he said it was not necessary to increase troop levels in Iraq. "It appears the country's headed in the opposite direction," Warner said. Read more:

Really, this isn’t exactly a controversial position as he falls into the mainstream opinion among policy makers in the Democratic Party.

Right now there are three major camps in the Democratic Party (yes each with nuances). There is a percentage on the anti-war left who knee jerk damn the consequences who want to pull out immediately from Iraq, simply because it is Mr. Bush’s war. If a civil war happens with genocide, or Iran sets up shop, just blame Bush. Then there is the Biden/Hillary club who truly believe pulling out could lead to bloody civil war killing hundred thousands of civilians, and make the situation worse for the US in Middle East. This group believes we need change our current strategy and to try to salvage something before withdraw. Then we have the Murtha faction of former hawks who believes the only way to make progress in Iraq is to pull-out to an over the horizon role and make the Iraq’s stand on their feet. Due to the type of insurgency, the military can only make the situation worse.

On the blogs, the usually reasoned Bull Moose lumps Warner in with Lieberman in a grand coalition of the adults.

Lieberman and Warner are charter members of the bi-partisan Coalition of Adults that realizes that an American defeat in Iraq would be both morally and strategically disastrous. And by refusing to abandon democrats, they are taking the progressive position!
Ouch, the Moose just laid a whooping steaming pile of manure in Warner's “defense.” Warner is adult, but comparing him to Lieberman... What is the Moose trying to do, clear the Democratic field of anyone who remotely might have a chance to beat his old boss McCain?

Moose, does this mean Murtha is in the Coalition of the Adolescents? Hell, I am torn myself. I don’t want American to be the cause of hundreds of thousands of deaths in a civil war, but I don’t believe democracy will ever work in Iraq. Murtha's plan looks better and better, as the only way out to avoid civil war.

Warner could have made huge political capital by becoming the first Presidential hopeful to endorse the Murtha plan. Truthfully, given his lack of foreign policy experience, it would have been a disingenuous purely political move. He is focused on his final months as VA governor and there is no way he has had the opportunity to meet with enough people to make well-informed decisions about Iraq. But silence on any topic isn’t ever granted to the “hot” candidate.

Now to the second and more controversial of Warner’s comments. Just a quick little one-liner that is probably the “right” thing to say, but politically removes a serious weapon in Warner’s arsenal.

"This Democrat doesn't think we need to re-fight how we got into (the Iraq war). I think we need to focus more on how to finish it," Warner said.

Ah, this sends my friend Dan Conley, a former speechwriter for Gov. Wilder D-VA, into fits on his blog. Conley’s argument is that essentially Warner is unilaterally disarming his best weapon in a crowded field of Senators.

On one level his Iraq speech was a failure because it demonstrated Warner to be a poor strategic player, unlikely to break through in a strong field. Perhaps the most potent advantage Warner has in 2008 is his distance from Washington and the 2002 Congressional Iraq War vote. The war vote is a club Warner can pound into Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards at will -- if these leaders didn't have the sense to slow down the march to war then, why should we trust them now? You don't even have to be a war opponent to make this argument -- you simply need to argue that these Senators had a Constitutional duty to thoroughly examine all the intelligence to make sure it was solid and they failed. Warner has now unilaterally disarmed on Iraq intelligence by saying we don't need to re-fight how we got into this war. Who's advising him on this nonsense?

His campaign clearly hasn't figured out that the only way for Warner to be nominated is to knock out John Edwards first, then become the electable Hillary alternative. Staking out the middle now, with Hillary already there and Edwards deftly shifting course on Iraq and picking up progressives with his 21st Century war on poverty, is a recipe for finishing behind Edwards in Iowa and dropping out soon after. Read more:

If my memory serves me right, Warner was never opposed in the Democratic two primaries for Senator and Governor. He has only had to run to the center in a general election without having to mollify the base. Conley could be right that Warner is a poor strategic player, but I would limit this to poor primary strategic player as he has shown an enormous amount of savvy in general elections.

While I disagree with Conley that Iraq will still be major issue in 2008, you just can’t tell 3 years out. I think everything will turn domestic in 2008, but Iraq is still going to be a big part of the primary discussion even if not so with the general. I have to concur with Conley, don’t unilaterally disarm two years before the start of primary season. Be bold talking about big ideas/visions, and quiet on specifics related to policies of the day.

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