During a May 4 washingtonpost.com online chat, Washington Post columnist David Broder told readers that his then-upcoming May 6 column would be his "best effort at an update" to his February 16 column in which he asserted that President Bush was "poised for a political comeback." In his May 6 column, titled "A War the Public Will End," Broder did not in any way address his assertion that Bush had been "poised for a comeback," much less note that the predicted comeback did not occur. Rather, in that column, Broder took the position that Bush has a short-term advantage over Democrats on Iraq because Bush "has a clear plan" for the war strategy, whereas "[t]he Democratic-controlled Congress ... lacks agreement on any such plan." Broder asserted that Bush's "high-risk policy" of "apply[ing] more military force in and around Baghdad in hopes of suppressing the sectarian violence and creating space for the Iraqi politicians to assemble a functioning government," had "no guarantee of success. But it is a clear strategy."
Yet, to make this argument of a short-term advantage for Bush, Broder shifted, without explanation, his characterization of the likelihood of success of Bush's "strategy." As Media Matters for America has noted, Broder stated on April 30 that it "is really doubtful" Bush's "effort to try to salvage something that would look like a victory in Iraq" is "achievable." Broder added that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, "probably has until August or September to produce something that would be tangible. If he can do it, that would be wonderful, but I think the odds are against him." Broder reaffirmed this belief during the same May 4 online chat, in which he stated that his May 6 column was intended as his "best effort at an update" of his February 16 column. In the chat, Broder stated that it was "highly improable [sic]" that the "the new tactiucs [sic] in Baghdad" would yield a successful result. But now, in "updat[ing]" his February 16 column, he has shifted his assessment of the likelihood of success of Bush's strategy, from highly improbable to the more optimistic "no[t] guarantee[d]."
From Broder's February 16 column:
It may seem perverse to suggest that, at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback. But don't be astonished if that is the case.
Like President Bill Clinton after the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, Bush has gone through a period of wrenching adjustment to his reduced status. But just as Clinton did in the winter of 1995, Bush now shows signs of renewed energy and is regaining the initiative on several fronts.
More important, he is demonstrating political smarts that even his critics have to acknowledge.
His reaction to the planned House vote opposing the increase he ordered in U.S. troops deployed to Iraq illustrates the point.
When Bush faced reporters on Wednesday morning, he knew that virtually all those in the Democratic majority would be joined by a significant minority of Republicans in voting today to decry the "surge" strategy.
He did three things to diminish the impact of that impending defeat.
First, he argued that the House was at odds with the Senate, which had within the past month unanimously confirmed Gen. David H. Petraeus as the new commander in Iraq -- the man Bush said was the author of the surge strategy and the man who could make it work. Bush has made Petraeus his blocking back in this debate -- replacing Vice President Cheney, whose credibility is much lower.
Second, he minimized the stakes in the House debate by endorsing the good motives of his critics, rejecting the notion that their actions would damage U.S. troops' morale or embolden the enemy -- all by way of saying that the House vote was no big deal.
And third, by contrasting today's vote on a nonbinding resolution with the pending vote on funding the war in Iraq, he shifted the battleground to a fight he is likely to win -- and put the Democrats on the defensive. Much of their own core constituency wants them to go beyond nonbinding resolutions and use the power of the purse to force Bush to reduce the American commitment in Iraq.
From the washingtonpost.com May 4 online discussion, "Broder on Politics":
Arden, N.C.: Mr. Broder, you stated that you would revisit your Bush bounce column. We haven't seen it yet. Is it coming any time soon?
David S. Broder: The column for Sunday is an effort to explain why Bush has a tactical advantage over the Democrats att the moment, but why it is unlikely to last. That's my best effort at an update.
Minneapolis: Do you believe there is a scenario in which the President would be able to raise his approval ratings back up into the normal historical range (meaning 45 percent or higher)? If so, what is it?
David S. Broder: If the new tactiucs in Baghdad and the addition of 20,000 troops actually reduce the level of violence in the country, and if the Iraqi politicians take advantage of the lull to compose their differences and form a functioning government, then the president could have a comeback. But I think the combination of events is highly improable.
From Broder's May 6 Washington Post column, titled "A War the Public Will End":
In this moment, the commander in chief has a clear plan -- to apply more military force in and around Baghdad in hopes of suppressing the sectarian violence and creating space for the Iraqi politicians to assemble a functioning government.
It is a high-risk policy with no guarantee of success. But it is a clear strategy.
The Democratic-controlled Congress, on the other hand, lacks agreement on any such plan. Most Democrats are unwilling to exercise their right to cut off funds for the war in Iraq, lest they be accused of abandoning the troops in the middle of the fight.
Lacking the will to do that, they are forced to an uncomfortable alternative. They are proposing to continue financing a war that most of them oppose, while placing conditions on the conduct of the war that the president says will reduce the chances of his strategy succeeding.
That claim, whatever its merits, places the Democrats on the defensive. It is not a comfortable position, but it is where they find themselves -- for now.
But it is only for now. Come September, when Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, says that he will be able to judge whether the new tactics and the nearly 30,000 additional troops have turned the tide in the effort to reduce the carnage in Baghdad, different political forces will prevail.
If he is successful and if the Iraqis begin to make the political accommodations needed to form a stable government, the president will be in a far better position to rally domestic support for the cause. If not, you can expect to see many congressional Republicans joining the Democrats in a demand for a "Plan B" that would probably lead to an early exit by a substantial portion of American troops.