June 20, 2006 -- As Americans woke up this morning and learned of the tragic fates of two American servicemen in Iraq, they saw yet more evidence of the real war that continues there.
In the United States, the political war over which of the two major political parties will be able to use Iraq as an issue for its electoral advantage in the November midterm election continued to heat up today.
In his call for a change in strategy, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., declared the Republican plan for Iraq "lie and die."
Kerry, along with Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., plan to offer an amendment to the 2007 Defense Authorization bill this week that sets a deadline of July 1, 2007, for U.S. troops to be redeployed out of Iraq.
Highlighting Democratic division on this issue, the amendment comes one day after Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan proposed a nonbinding resolution calling for the president to begin redeploying troops this year. It did not set any firm deadline for all troops to be out of Iraq.
Republicans -- who prefer to talk about Democratic division on Iraq than the more than 2,500 American lives lost or the majority of Americans who say the Iraq war was a mistake -- pounced.
"Democrats have been up until all hours searching for a proposal for a position on the war on terror that will unify their party," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "Maybe they should focus on one that will secure Iraq and our troops -- not just their electoral prospects."
'Lie and Die'
Kerry, a former presidential candidate, was well-prepared for the Republican criticism and took to the morning radio airwaves on Don Imus' popular program to fight back.
"'Cut and run' -- that's their phrase," he said. "They found their three words. They love to do that. And they're going to try to make the elections in November a choice between 'cut and run' and 'stay the course.' That's not the choice."
"My plan is not 'cut and run,'" he said. "Their plan is 'lie and die.' And that's what they are doing. They lie to America, what's happening on the ground. They lie about why we're there. They lie about what's happening. And our plan is very simple. It's redeploy to win the war on terror. Change to succeed."
Kerry said his amendment "provides the only opportunity for success" and sets more than enough time to do "what has to be done" to get American troops home and get the Iraqis to stand up on their own.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt challenged the notion, saying, "It's offensive that the Democrats' former presidential candidate would manipulate the sacrifice of our troops into sloganeering for political gain."
Many Senate Democrats are eager to present a united front as they did a couple of months ago when the Senate passed -- with bipartisan support -- a resolution calling for 2006 to be "a year of transition" in Iraq.
The divisions within the Democratic Party over Iraq, however, are becoming more clear -- especially as some people begin to position themselves for potential 2008 presidential runs.
The divisions could provide an opening for Republicans to paint the opposition as a bit all over the map on the most important issue of the day and avoid the more important debate of how best to improve conditions on the ground so that the Iraqis can continue to take more control of their own security and civic affairs.
"We have to serve notice on the Iraqis that their future has to be in their own hands," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
President Bush and his political strategist Karl Rove have made clear in recent days that they believe the Republican Party should run on staying the course in Iraq as a winning political issue and not run away from it because it is unpopular with the American public.
In recent polling, Democrats have been able to shore up the deficit they normally face with the American people on national security matters. In addition, the failures of the Bush administration on Hurricane Katrina and the Dubai ports controversy will certainly be part of the Democratic talking points from now to November.
Whether or not the Republicans can successfully make an unpopular war with a rising American death toll -- the No. 1 issue in many surveys -- a political liability for their opponents remains to be seen.