Pun and (War) Games

We all knew yesterday would mark a turning point in the politics of the Iraq war -- and this is no time to envy the Republicans. But all it took was a newspaper ad (and one particularly poor pun) to make Democrats squirm, at the very time the party needs unity the most.

Republicans' rallying point actually had little to do with the long-awaited report to Congress by Gen. David Petraeus. Moveon.org's ad in yesterday's New York Times was meant to help Democrats make a case against Petraeus' recommendations, but the play on his name ("General Betray Us?") backfired by letting Republicans take the offensive -- and they unloaded in unison.

The ad allowed White House allies to "change the subject from the progress in Iraq to the rhetoric used by war opponents," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "By the end of the day, 30 Republican senators and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., had written to the Democratic Senate Leader, asking him to 'join us in making it clear that you do not share the views of Moveon.org, and that you will not join Moveon.org in attacking the character of this fine officer,' and House Republicans had introduced a resolution condemning the ad."

A day that many Republicans on Capitol Hill dreaded went better than the GOP could have planned, as Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker more than held their own. "As the day unfolded, Congressional Republicans seemed increasingly pleased by the course of the events, saying that Democrats seemed unable to poke many holes in the testimony," writes The New York Times' Carl Hulse. "To them it was a welcome respite from weeks of party division over the war, not to mention days of turmoil over the personal conduct of Senator Larry E. Craig."

Petraeus' testimony makes it likely that the next president will inherit a situation where more than 100,000 US troops will remain in Iraq in January 2009, ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America." "He did what the president needed him to do," Stephanopoulos said. "He bought time."

Writes Dana Milbank of The Washington Post: "Though trying to punt until March a decision about major troop reductions, he leavened his remarks with soothing phrases such as 'I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq' and 'Force reductions will continue beyond the pre-surge levels.' "

Do not mistake a news cycle or two -- or the impact of any single ad, as juvenile as Moveon.org's was -- for a tectonic political shift. The attacks made the GOP feel good for the day, but the substance of Petraeus' recommendations mean we'll probably be back here again in March -- six months closer to the election -- with the Republicans perhaps even more conflicted over whether to continue to support the war.

But the Moveon.org ad and its fallout provide a stark reminder of the influence of the anti-war left, which remains -- more than Republicans -- the biggest threat to Democratic unity on the war. "The bottom line seemed clear: Majority Democrats haven't coalesced around a single option to brandish against the White House's conduct of the war," writes Time's Mark Thompson. "In the wake of Monday's hearing -- and a pair slated before the Senate on Tuesday -- it appears likely that there will be no major change in U.S. policy in Iraq until at least next spring."

"The Iraq war now moves into a phase where the battlefield calculus is likely to matter far less than what happens in Washington," writes the Chicago Tribune's Michael Tackett. "But while the Democrats might believe they have the stronger argument, they also face the tougher decision of whether to vote for funding for a strategy that they have publicly rejected."

The '08 reactions broke down on generally predictable party lines, and much of the field gets a crack at Petraeus and Crocker in today's Senate hearings.

"Democrats mirrored the views of their base by joining hands in unified opposition to the Petraeus/Crocker analysis," write Politico's Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin. "For Republicans, some of whom had been sidling ever so slightly away from Bush on Iraq, the hint of even incremental progress was occasion to full-throatedly support the surge -- a policy that continues to enjoy strong support among the GOP voters most likely to turn out for next year's primaries and caucuses."

Today is Tuesday, Sept. 11, the first time the day and date have matched up like this since 2001. And the symbolism of the day will run through the presidential campaigns: The candidates are fanning out to remembrances and ceremonies. No one will be more visible, of course, than former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y.

Giuliani is viewed by Republicans as a hero of 9/11, "but those impressions have not translated into a substantial advantage over his party's other presidential candidates when it comes to who can best fight terrorism," per a New York Times/CBS poll. "61 percent of Republican voters said Mr. Giuliani would do about the same job as his rivals for the nomination in combating the threat from terrorism; Mr. Giuliani has made keeping the United States 'on offense' against terrorism a centerpiece of his campaign," write the Times' Marc Santora and Dalia Sussman. "And he still faces a formidable challenge in winning over conservative voters who are leery of his positions on some social issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage."

ABC's Cynthia McFadden examines Giuliani's role on 9/11 tonight on Nightline. And the political pre-buttal began before the former mayor uttered a word this morning at Ground Zero. This statement from FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches, a longtime Giuliani critic: "He just lies, and when you do find out more about him you won't vote for him."

Say what you will about Rudy -- and it's all being said -- but he does have more staying power than many political insiders anticipated. Maybe this is the political legacy of 9/11: "All summer, Republican strategists predicted Giuliani's national popularity would fade as voters became aware of his support for legalized abortion, gay rights and gun control," writes Bloomberg's Hans Nichols. "That fall from grace hasn't happened, and Giuliani, 63, is well ahead of his rivals."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hopes that today's anniversary and the action on Capitol Hill will help jump start his campaign. He kicks off his "No Surrender Tour" this evening in Sioux City, Iowa, and will also hit New Hampshire and South Carolina in the coming days. The Arizona Republic's Dan Nowicki senses the start of a "resurgence": "It all helps counter the previously prevailing perception that his candidacy was washed up." Said McCain campaign manager Rick Davis: "Now, the bar's even higher."

Also in the news:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign has seen the Norman Hsu story linger long enough. Clinton, D-N.Y., is returning $850,000 in donations from 260 individuals recruited by Hsu. (But how many of them will pony up again anyway?) This is serious money -- the most ever returned by a candidate -- and the campaign will now conduct background checks on its top fund-raisers, per The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins. "Mrs. Clinton's move is a turn in what has become the first big setback for a campaign that until now had been an amazingly smooth juggernaut," Mullins writes.

The Clinton campaign appears to have looked into anti-Hsu allegations over the summer, but did not turn up anything that gave them pause, according to the Los Angeles Times' Robin Fields, Chuck Neubauer, and Dan Morain. "I can tell you with 100 [percent] certainty that Norman Hsu is NOT involved in a ponzi scheme," Samantha Wolf, who was a Clinton campaign finance director for the Western states, wrote in June in an e-mail obtained by the Times. "He is COMPLETELY legit." (Careful with the capitalization, now . . .)

And the Hsu story gets more bizarre, according to an account of his arrest on a train provided by a fellow passenger. Hsu was bare-chested and in the fetal position on the floor of a sleeper car when he was arrested last week, the passenger, Joanne Segale, tells the Journal's Kris Hudson. Conductors had to use a crowbar to pry open the door. "He was acting like he didn't understand them. They tried to get him up but he couldn't walk," Segale said.

Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., is talking about Osama bin Laden again, and again sounding more like Howard Dean than, say, Rudy Giuliani. Yesterday, in South Carolina, Thompson delivered a legal lesson on why bin Laden can't be put to death immediately upon capture: "No, no, no, we've got due process to go through," Thompson said, per the AP's Jim Davenport. "I'm not suggesting those things happen simultaneously."

Is Thompson so rusty that he doesn't know the right answer -- forget the Arthur Branchian legalistic one -- when it comes to bin Laden? The American Spectator's Jennifer Rubin: "Do we have to Mirandize OBL? A jury of his peers? The mind reels. Something tells me no other candidate will agree with this one."

Thompson also said yesterday that he doesn't attend church regularly and won't speak out about his religion on the trail, per Bloomberg's Kim Chipman. It's "just the way I am not to talk about some of these things," Thompson said. (Remind anyone of John Kerry?) Chipman writes, "Thompson's remarks may not play well with religious voters who represent a sizable segment of the Republican Party and whose support he has been courting, portraying himself as a 'common sense conservative.' "

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., "joins the list of 2008 presidential hopefuls pursuing not only the top spot on the Democratic ticket but a top spot on the bestseller list," ABC's Donna Hunter reports. He has a new book out today, "Letters from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice," telling the story of future senator Thomas Dodd's role as a lead prosecutor in the 1945 Nuremberg trials.

The book "is a story of the symmetry between a father and son, and their times," the AP's Ron Fournier writes. And there's politics: "For six decades, we learned the lessons of the Nuremberg men and women well," Dodd writes. "We didn't start wars -- we ended them. We didn't commit torture -- we condemned it. We didn't turn away from the world -- we embraced it. But that has changed in the past few years."

Another campaign break-in, this one at former governor Mitt Romney's gleaming waterfront headquarters in Boston's North End. The haul included seven laptops and Spencer Zwick's 37-inch plasma TV -- but the campaign's not worried about internal documents getting out, The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson reports. "There is no Woodward or Bernstein book at the end of this caper," said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.

That doesn't mean there's no room in the campaign for dirty tricks. An anti-Thompson Website that was abruptly shut down yesterday appears to have been connected to "at least two top members of Mitt Romney's South Carolina operation," Michael Luo reports in The New York Times. "The Web site, PhoneyFred.org, had attacked Mr. Thompson's conservative credentials, opening with the line: 'Phoney Fred. Acting like a conservative,' " Luo writes. "But Internet queries reveal connections between the site and Warren Tompkins, a South Carolina political consultant hired by Mr. Romney, and Terry Sullivan, Mr. Romney's South Carolina state director."

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., made it official yesterday: He's not running for reelection or for the White House in 2008. "He emphasized that he has 16 months remaining in office and said he would continue taking an active role in the debate on Iraq war policy," write Robynn Tysver and Jake Thompson of the Omaha World-Herald. Said Hagel: "I intend to be very engaged in this war debate as I have been for the last five years."

Hagel's departure makes a bad electoral map worse for Republicans, as former senator Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., eyes a return to politics. But the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein sees a fight looming with liberals if Kerrey does seek to come back to the Senate. "If Nebraskans replace Mr. Hagel with Mr. Kerrey, they will be trading a Republican who has called the war 'hopeless' and 'an absolute replay of Vietnam' for a Democrat who has insisted that the invasion was justified and that an abrupt withdrawal would hand an unacceptable win to Al Qaeda," Gerstein writes.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, filed court papers yesterday fleshing out the wide-stance/witch-hunt/not-gay defense. "While in this state of intense anxiety, Senator Craig felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered him by the police officer, namely that if he were to submit to an interview and plead guilty, then none of the officer's allegations would be made public," Craig's lawyers wrote in a court filing.

And don't forget that other sex scandal: Larry Flynt is planning a 1 pm PST press conference in Los Angeles to unveil additional allegations against Sen. David Vitter, R-La., ABC's Jake Tapper reports. And "a woman who used to work as a prostitute in New Orleans passed a lie detector test averring that she had a 'sexual relationship' with Vitter that lasted at least four months," reports Kate Moran of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Former solicitor general Theodore Olson "has emerged as a leading candidate" to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, "despite initial concerns in the administration that he could face a tough confirmation hearing," ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg reports. "Olson was confirmed solicitor general by a razor-thin 51-47 vote in 2001, when Republicans ran the Senate," Greenburg writes. "President Bush's choice could send a signal: How much fight does he have left -- or feel like expending -- in the remaining 15 months of his administration?"

Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., is getting his wish of a one-on-one debate with Thompson -- sort of, and maybe. The Strafford County (New Hampshire) Republican Women's club is willing to sponsor the forum, per the Concord Monitor's Lauren R. Dorgan. "All the women need is a time, a place -- and an RSVP from Thompson," Dorgan writes. Says Huckabee New Hampshire director Debra Vanderbeek: "The only downside, I guess, is if the governor showed up for a debate and the other chair was empty."

Clinton is drawing some heat for campaigning in Florida yesterday, just a week after pledging to respect the early-voting states by not campaigning in states that break party rules by jumping the line. Though Florida is technically not yet in violation of DNC rules, everyone knows what the deal is, the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen writes in his blog. "One thing we learned during Bill Clinton's presidency was to study and parse his words carefully," Yepsen writes. "Apparently we'll need to do that with his wife should she become president."

They're not happy in New Hampshire

or Nevada either.

The kicker:

"I would have preferred to have somebody else tumble down." -- Hagel, after seeing his framed caricature crash to the floor at the Omaha Press Club, in the middle of his press conference where he announced his retirement from the Senate.

"Viewed in its worst light, [Craig's conduct] doesn't even rise to the level of annoying, much less disorderly." -- Attorneys Billy Martin and Thomas M. Kelly, in their court filing seeking the withdrawal of Craig's guilty plea.