Monday Morning Quarterback: It's All About Iraq

Iraq week -- with General David Petraeus reporting to Congress and the nation on the results, and lack of same, on the surge, has made it plain that Iraq and related matters will continue to dominate presidential politics this year and the next. The week ahead in presidential politics is no different.

John McCain wraps up his "No Surrender Tour" in South Carolina, which holds a key early primary next January. McCain has been touring early primary and caucus states the past week, coinciding with the Petraeus report together with fellow distinguished vets of the Vietnam War, vowing no retreat in Iraq while pointing out the myriad of mistakes made there by the Bush Administration. According to quite a few reports I've heard, it's been good for him. McCain did well in the recent New Hampshire debate. So the Vietnam War hero may actually be on the comeback trail once again this year, after earlier meltdowns with independents on Iraq and conservatives on immigration.

Rudy Giuliani will continue banging away at Hillary Clinton this week. He has a new ad attacking her for changing her position on Iraq -- she backed the invasion and continued to support the Bush Administration through early stages of the policy -- and for criticizing Petraeus and his report (she praised him when she voted to confirm his command in Iraq) and for not criticizing MoveOn.org for its harsh New York Times ad attacking General "Betray Us." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0L63Ff_mGzs

Giuliani, along with some other Republicans, portrays Petraeus as a figure above politics, sacrosanct and above criticism. The MoveOn ad is tough and, like much of what the lefty-lib outfit does, not to mention much of the blogosphere in general, verges on nasty hysteria in its tone. But Giuliani, who backed George McGovern back in the day and never wore the uniform -- in the process availing himself of multiple deferments -- may not be aware that Petraeus is only the latest in a long line of generals who have placed themselves in the middle of politics.

Criticism comes with the territory, as a far greater and much more famous general, Douglas MacArthur, could tell Petraeus, who prior to being hand-picked by Bush for the Iraq command was virtually unknown to the American public.

Nevertheless, Giuliani is bound and determined to go after Clinton. Notwithstanding the lack of historical logic, Giuliani's strategy makes political sense for him. He's trying to fend off the emergence, at long last, of Fred Thompson as a declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Although his launch has had its rocky moments, Thompson has moved up again in the polls, surging into a tie with Giuliani nationally in last week's CNN poll. http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2007/images/09/11/rel9f.pdf

Picking a fight with Hillary is a tried and true way to engage Republican base voters, the one constituency that continues to back the various Iraq policies of the Bush Administration, and which generally has a longstanding hatred of the controversial former first lady.

With her historically high negatives in public opinion polling, the New York senator is the Democrat whom Republicans most want to run against. (Although with her combat skills, not to mention the experience of her husband the former president, and the fact that Iraq will continue to be front and center in the national consciousness through next year's election, they might want to be careful about what they wish for.)

What President George W. Bush and his associates such as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker did last week all but guaranteed that Iraq and affiliated matters will be the dominant issue of the 2008 elections. By an odd coincidence, the US is now slated to have just as many troops in Iraq come next July as we had before the latest "surge" strategy began. And while there have been some successes - as well there might be, given the extraordinary efforts undertaken - they remain isolated both geographically and politically, with their sustainability in deep question. Indeed, the Sunni sheik with whom Bush had met with only 10 days earlier and who was so key to the newfound ability to take on Al Qaeda in Anbar province, was assassinated just before Bush spoke to the nation last Thursday night.

On the following day, this past Friday, the White House sent a new benchmarks report to Congress showing progress on only one indicator: the various Iraqi factions have agreed to allow former members of Saddam's Baath Party to hold government posts. Of course, an agreement is one thing. Actually implementing that agreement is quite another, as years of experience in attempting to run Iraq has shown.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, who received the endorsement of former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark, victor in the Kosovo War (and target in his time of a lot of harsh criticism from the right, much of which opposed the action in Kosovo), over the weekend, is set to announce her health care plan this week. She still has a Democratic nomination to win. And despite the conventional wisdom among historically-challenged journalists, she's a long way from winning it. Every challenger in the history of the Democratic Party would love to have had Barack Obama's record-breaking fundraising prowess and ability to give a speech.

On Thursday, in Davenport, Iowa -- one of the ever-exciting "quad cities" near the Illinois border -- the Democrats gather again for one of their no doubt scintillating presidential forums. This one is sponsored by AARP, so we can expect riveting discussion of burning issues near and dear to the senior citizens lobby.

We'll see if Obama, who has vowed to limit his participation in these mushrooming non-debates -- preparation by the candidates takes up a lot of time, and scheduling cuts into their strategic planning -- shows up or not.