The great political drama of this pre-election year is playing out inside a 24-hour period on a stage in Kansas City. Yesterday brought a Democratic candidate who wants to end the war (and was against it from the start), and a Republican candidate who still supports it (and accuses the Democrats of planting a "white flag").
And today brings a president who is desperately trying to salvage the war, recalibrating his strategy in a final ploy to shore up support for the mission that will define his presidency. As the politics of 2008 crowd in around him, President Bush has a diminishing arsenal of political moves on the war in Iraq, and he is playing his best (last?) cards simultaneously.
Just a day after publicly putting some daylight between himself and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Bush this morning will deliver a speech comparing the war on terror (and in Iraq) to military efforts in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam: "They are all ideological struggles," he plans to say, per excerpts released by the White House -- an unusual move in and of itself. "Today, the names and places have changed, but the fundamental character of the struggle has not."
Democrats are giving the president just enough room for him to shift the debate before the Petraeus report's release. And just in case, a new GOP-friendly interest group -- with Ari Fleischer providing the public face -- will pump $15 million into an advertising campaign aimed at shoring up support in Congress. (What took so long?)
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama are joining the ranks of Democrats who are acknowledging signs of military progress, even while the Democratic base itches for progress on ending the war from Capitol Hill, Jonathan Weisman and Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post report. "Democrats have been forced to recalibrate their own message in the face of recent positive signs on the security front," they write. "For Democratic congressional leaders, the dog days of August are looking anything but quiet."
Bush's move against Maliki -- the guy who was "the right guy for Iraq" last fall -- is creating the president some maneuvering room. "He seems to be laying the groundwork for a new message, one that says, 'We're doing our job in Iraq; don't blame us if the Iraqis aren't doing theirs,' " write Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times. "The president's remarks are aimed at a domestic audience. . . . Now Mr. Bush is admitting publicly what anyone who follows events in Iraq can plainly see: [his] plan is not altogether working."
Vietnam comparisons are tricky -- that war didn't end so fabulously for the United States, as Democrats are already reminding the president. But Bush plans to "bluntly warn the Democrats against committing the errors of Vietnam -- where America's withdrawal precipitated a communist-led bloodbath," the New York Sun's Eli Lake reports. "The stakes for Iraq and the Bush presidency could not be higher."