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If only Democrats could plan a bit more than a half-step ahead, they’d pay close attention to what Baker is cooking up, as it were.

The emerging plan for the next couple of years seems to be to attempt to pile on Democrats with the accusation of “cut and run” prior to the midterm elections and then to shift gears, declare limited victory in Iraq and propose a timetable for withdrawal AFTER the midterm elections and before the next general election.

The Iraqi people want a timetable for us to get out of there as do the American people. The only other option is to ramp up the forces there to the half-million or more necessary to secure the country — a plan that, with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and other potential threats — would almost surely entail reinstating the draft, something that the GOP will NEVER do in the leadup to a presidential election.

Democrats need to see what’s coming — and advocate for what they believe. I suspect that they will almost always be losers in the war debate since they were dumb enough to back Bush in the first place and they’ll always be the ones who didn’t have the guts to say what they knew was the right thing to say WHEN it needed to be said. If there charge against Bush is that he got it all wrong — that just makes them look like the idiots they were for jumping on his bandwagon.

Still, they need to tell the public what’s going on, that even as the GOP numbly repeat their “cut and run” charge, they are plotting to announce a plan for troop withdrawals after the elections, and they need to take the initiative to come up with a least-worst withdrawal plan and make that an issue NOW before Republicans steal it from them.

I think MA is correct on the GOP plans for Iraq, and I touched on this a while back. But the larger issue he is getting at applies well beyond Iraq.

The Democrats have to make sure that they frame the election in the next few weeks in such a way that they can convert the political momentum of victory into a strong post-election political position on a range of issues.

For example, prior to the Foley scandal, I think it would have been difficult for the Democrats to persuasively argue that their victory was a mandate for fundamental political reform. But now the issue of scandal and corruption has been clearly framed, and Democratic victory would carry with it a strong mandate to clean up public corruption.

Winning the election must of course be the first priority, but it’s time to be thinking ahead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

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