Consider, for a moment, how the Bush White House and the Republican National Committee would have reacted late last week if a Democratic senator had delivered this floor speech during the Iraq war debate:
"My distinguished colleagues, I firmly believe it is time to start withdrawing our troops from Iraq, and, more importantly, it is time that we discussed specifics. For instance, we currently have 14 brave fighting brigades in that country. Each brigade has about 3500 troops. I propose that, in accordance with improving conditions on the ground -- and the President has assured us that steady progress is being made -- we can set a specific goal of pulling out our brigades until there are perhaps only five or six still in Iraq by the end of next year. Further, I believe that this phased withdrawal can begin as early as this September, by sending home two brigades. We could pull out two more by the end of this year. We could take out perhaps four more by next June. This would also mean that we could start reducing the number of U.S. military bases in Iraq, and that would also demonstrate to the Iraqis that we are not permanent occupiers. I firmly believe that, by the end of next year, we could cut the number of bases from the current 69 to roughly 11. But, under my plan, we would still have flexibility, because I propose redeploying one of the brigades to Kuwait, and another in some other location, where both would be available in a crisis. All told, I believe that this is a prudent plan that would work to shift responsibility to the Iraqis for their own future. And that is where the responsibility belongs."
It's easy to guess how such a speech would have been attacked by Karl Rove's message minions: "Defeatist...surrender...cut and run...raising the white flag...signaling al Qaeda about our intentions...proof that Democrats aren't serious about fighting the global war on terror...the party of retreat."
Well, I await those labels being applied to their own side, because guess what: Every single detail in that imaginary speech comes from the phased pullout plan currently being floated by President Bush's top commander in the field, Gen. George W. Casey Jr.
Perhaps it's absolutely total coincidence that Casey is suggesting that a phased troop withdrawal begin on the eve of the '06 congressional elections, at a time when Bush's poll numbers (and the congressional Republicans' numbers as well) are in the tank primarily because of Iraq. Even if this the coincidence is real, what it actually demonstrates is that the Democrats were right to raise the issue of withdrawal (with or without a timetable) in the first place. And if the timing is not totally coincidental, then it demonstrates that the Democrats have an accurate reading of the public's mood, and that they got there first.
As one Democratic strategist said to me today, "If we can't jump on this right away, and show that what the Bush administration is planning is basically a confirmation that we were right all along, then maybe we should just disband."