Who Won Last Week?

The conventional wisdom, I think, is that the tide on Iraq is running the Democrats’ way, and that last week’s votes in the House and Senate are further milestones in the disintegration of the administration’s Iraq policy.
Maybe so. But Bill Kristol doesn’t agree. Kristol lays it on the line, blasting the Democrats and the media:

The Defeatist Democrats have lots of support from the mainstream media, most of whom have simply given up on reporting the war or analyzing arguments about the war. … [R]un-of-the-mill foreign policy and White House reporters have little interest in what is actually happening in Iraq, or in a real consideration of the likely outcomes of different policy options. They’re not even reporting what’s happening in Washington. They’re simply committed to discrediting the war and humiliating the Bush administration.
As for the foreign policy establishment and its fellow travelers in the punditocracy, one might have thought they could be serious about this war–actually analyzing events, engaging in a grown-up debate about the real-world consequences of different courses of action, keeping calm amid the political posturing. … The establishment, like the media and the Democrats, wants to discredit and humiliate an administration that too often (though not often enough!) dared to think for itself, and to act without their permission. They’re out to destroy Bush, his ideas, and his supporters, no matter the consequences for the country.
Over the last few weeks, all of these estimable entities–the Democratic party in Congress, much of the media, and the foreign policy establishment–have joined together to try to panic the country, and the Bush administration, into giving up. The story of the past week–an important week–is this: They failed. Many around Bush wobbled. But Bush stood firm. Most Republicans on the Hill stood firm. And, so far as one can tell, the country as a whole pulled back a bit from the irresponsibility of cutting and running.
Now, the assumption in the media, and among most in the political world, remains that the Defeatists have the momentum, that Bush is fighting a rearguard action, and that his retreat at home, and U.S. defeat abroad, are basically inevitable.
But what if this week is a harbinger of things to come? What if the Defeatists have overplayed their hand?

It’s an optimistic hope, of course. But I would add this to what Kristol says: the Democrats’ position is really quite delicate. They know that precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would probably have catastrophic consequences. They also know that their facile reply–“Iraq is already a disaster!”–won’t cut any ice once people see what a real catastrophe looks like. So their strategy is to agitate for withdrawal, but without actually bringing it about, which they could do by cutting off funding. They hope to bully President Bush, or else a large number of Congressional Republicans, into going along with a hasty withdrawal, thereby avoiding responsibility for the consequences. But if President Bush simply holds tight, supported by enough votes in Congress to sustain vetoes, the Democrats will be in a rather tough position. It will be hard for them to explain why they don’t bring about the surrender they say they want, without admitting that it’s a terrible idea.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the war continues to enjoy broad support where the President needs it the most. The Washington Times headlines “GOP Base’s Support Erodes Over Iraq War,” but the actual thrust of the story is quite different:

Republican Party officials say there has been some erosion in the base because of the Iraq war but that overall, grass-roots support remains strong for President Bush’s latest efforts to defeat the terrorists there


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