This week is a tremendous messaging opportunity on Iraq for anyone who wants to take it. General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are testifying in the House and the Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday about the surge. The goal from our perspective should be to pose the question of whether our presence in Iraq is making us safer, rather than focusing on levels of violence and the tactical questions surrounding the surge. Barack Obama frames it correctly with this question.
Obama, an Illinois Democrat, also wants a quick end to the war. On Friday, he said: ""We still don't have a good answer to the question posed by Sen. (John) Warner the last time Gen. Petraeus appeared: How has this effort in Iraq made us safer and how do we expect it will make us safer in the long run?"
By far the worst framing is done by Carl Levin, speaking about the surge.
"In my judgment, it's too rosy, but there are parts of it that are not so rosy, and both pieces need to be declassified," Sen. Carl Levin said, pointing in particular to the portion of the report describing Iraq's political progress.
Levin also likes to blame the Iraqi government for the problems in Iraq. It's actually a fairly common line, with prominent Democrats undercutting a coherent message.
"We saw a meaningful reduction in violence, and that presented an opportunity to build up national reconciliation that was the underlying premise of the surge," said Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It seems that the Iraqis have largely frittered it away."
Republicans, meanwhile, see this week as an opportunity to push their message about winning in Iraq. Here's what Republicans are planning.
On the Republican side, a veterans group tied to the party is planning a rally near the Senate, while House Republicans are coordinating with conservative bloggers and will invite conservative radio commentators to broadcast from Washington. Republicans plan to push for new money for troops in Iraq; to highlight statements by Democrats that the troop "surge," which ended last fall, has worked; to point out some signs of political reconciliation; and to insist that troops can be removed from Iraq only when military leaders decide it is the proper time.
"The goal of the effort is not just to reinforce the message delivered by General Petraeus, but to launch a full-fledged assault on the misinformation campaign promoted by Democratic leaders who have lost every time they have tried to legislate defeat for America," said an internal strategy memo for Republican communications operatives.
It is clear that DC Democrats have several different lines of messaging going on that work against each other. Some of them want to drill into the tactics of the surge, some want to discuss larger national security questions, and some want to concede the surge worked but that the Iraqis are somehow at fault.
It's important to recognize that this is all a sideshow to the real question in front of all of us, one avoided by many of the politicians in DC. What do we do in Iraq to make our country safer?