Democrats on Iraq: Do This ... or Do That

Oct. 29, 2006 — -- When it comes to Iraq, Democrats seem to be all over the map.

In Tennessee, Rep. Harold Ford Jr., the Democratic Senate candidate, wants U.S. troops to help partition Iraq into three parts -- Sunni, Shiite and Kurd.

"My plan for the Iraqis is to decentralize the three ethnic federations," Ford said at a debate with his Republican opponent, former Chattanooga, Tenn., Mayor Bob Corker.

In Iowa, Democratic congressional candidate Bruce Braley suggests Congress should cut off funding for the war. At the Iowa Press Democratic Primary Debate on May 19, when asked by Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen, "Do you cut off the funds [to the troops on the ground]?," Braley replied, "Yes, to get them home. You bring them home."

In Missouri, Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill wants to move U.S. troops out of Iraq to force the Iraqis to take control of their own country.

"What's going on in Iraq has pinned us down in a way that we cannot effectively fight this war on terror," McCaskill said.

One big problem; three approaches.

"Different candidates are going in different directions," said Dick Polman of the University of Pennsylvania, "and voters are not hearing any kind of consistent, resonant plan coming from the Democratic leadership."

The Democrats argue that's because even if they win control of Congress, the Bush administration will still control the Pentagon.

In September, when ABC News asked Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., if Democrats have offered a specific enough strategy on how to win in Iraq, she replied, "It's very hard to talk about what we can do, because we have the same people in charge who have failed consistently now over the last, you know, four-plus years."

But there's a political reason as well: It's much easier to call for change than to present a detailed plan of your own that can be criticized itself.

So Democrats focus on smaller issues, arguing -- as Pennsylvania Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr. has -- that a Democratic Congress is needed to grill Bush administration officials about strategy.

"We don't get any of those probing questions when you have a rubber stamp and lockstep Congress," Casey said.

Polman said the Democrats are missing an answer to the question many voters are asking: If Bush is a failure, what comes next?

If Democrats take the House, look for investigations into what one top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., calls the Bush administration's "deception, manipulation, torture, retributions and cover-ups in the Iraq war" in a newly released staff report.

It seems, Democrats will focus on how the United States got into Iraq, even if they have no cohesive answer on how to get out.