Iraq's Election and the U.S. Elections

It's a given that the Iraq war will shape the next two elections, and will influence the choices of politicians for years, possibly decades to come. Right now, though, one of the key questions being pondered by Washington watchers is this: who's going to benefit politically from the war in the 2006 midterm elections and the 2008 presidential contest?

That is, which party ideology will prevail -- conservative or liberal? And, and among conservatives, will limited-government conservatives or big-government conservatives gain influence?

As I've said, I don't like to engage in prediction. But in wrapping up the week's Debate on Iraq's constitution, I'll take a look at how the political progress in Iraq stands to help the GOP in the coming elections, even as the ongoing violence and extended troop deployment works in the Democrats' favor.

The Iraq constitution vote itself now seems likely to help the GOP. Iraqi Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis voted in a nationwide referendum to approve a constitution and will likely be voting for a parliament Dec. 15 in sufficient numbers to support GOP claims that democracy is beginning to function in Iraq. (And yes, PostWatch, it is a parliament. Just because it's not democratically elected doesn't mean it's no longer called a parliament -- House of Lords, anyone?)

Plus, Saddam Hussein's trial, which started today, should provide some useful footage for Republican campaign ads.

Also working in the Republicans' favor is the fact that the Dems still lack coherent counterproposals for managing the situation in Iraq. So far they've been coasting on criticism of Bush. But while wrecking one's opponent is, unfortunately, all too often a key component of running a winning campaign, there is a point, rapidly approaching, when someone's going to demand specifics.

Plenty of other things, unrelated to Iraq, should help the GOP's campaign. Many of these are related to the vast amounts of money flooding presidential campaigns -- a subject we'll dip into for the Debate on ethics scandals, which starts tomorrow. Got a tip for interesting opinions on the subject? E-mail me.

Of course, the Democrats have cards of their own -- but will they be able to play them?

Facts that could work in the favor of Dems include:

*The continuing insurgency. From a NYT news analysis: "Senior officials say the intelligence reports flowing over their desks in recent months argue that even if democratic institutions take hold, the insurgency may strengthen." Ex-marine Max Von Shuler says we're stuck in Phase Four of the four phases of Guerrilla campaigns, not a good place to be. Writes Best of the Blogs' John, "According to the Washington Post, the US has officially admitted that it cannot control or destroy the insurgency, but to diminish it. This is defeat, pure and simple."

*The whole issue of missing Weapons of Mass Destruction. True, no one seems to care anymore. But it's not dirty politics to point out that -- intentionally or based on bad intelligence -- the original rationale that scared so many people into supporting the war was flat out wrong, and the administration must accept responsibility for that.

*Abu Ghraib. With McCain firmly in the anti-torture camp, that prison abuse scandal lends credibility (not that any extra credibility should be needed -- hello! we're talking about torture!) to the Dems' line against the administration. Oh, and the recent 90-9 vote for the McCain anti-torture amendment was a blow to Bush's leadership -- particularly since the president threatened his first veto over it.

*Huge, unheard of deficits, in part because of war spending. The Dems should gain by offering specific plans on what needs to be done to clean up the budget train wreck, but have hesitated, perhaps because of conflicts between competing interests within the party and fears of voter backlash.

*The president's falling popularity ratings, in part due to voters wondering whether all the resources being funneled toward Iraq might be better used at home.

Overall, it seems to me that the Democrats seem most likely to benefit from the situation in Iraq, despite the relatively successful constitutional vote. But make no mistake, they've still got plenty of opportunity to blow it. It's vital at bare minimum that liberals successfully separate support of the president's actions (in starting and not planning adequately for this war) from support for the troops themselves.

(Is Gore the anti-war candidate for 2008? Ryan Lizza speculates in the New Republic about this possibility, including the key idea that Gore would have an automatic base of support online in the liberal blogger/ communities. Michael J.W. Stickings in The Reaction blog is skeptical of the plausibility of Lizza's scenario.)

The impact of the political successes in Iraq will be better measured after the December parliamentary elections. And as Larry Diamond writes in the Los Angeles Times, the success of those elections will be measured largely by Sunni participation.

Of course, one never knows what going to happen. SSquirrel blog worries about the possibility of a "gasoline-soaked quagmire" with a worst case scenario going something like this: "Iraq will become the new Lebanon with the Saudis (in the role of Israel, heavens!) supplying Sunnis and Iran (playing Syria) supplying Shiias. And Condi blaming Syria, of course. Then Turkey will invade the Kurdistan Republic of Iraq ..." Could the Iraq war be the downfall of American dominance in Middle East politics? In the Middle East Times, Saad N. Jawad argues that is a distinct possibility.

Final Note: A couple of excellent graphics made their way onto over the weekend -- one on constitutional provisions and one outlining the last-minute changes to the charter and providing a handy timeline. And this story by Anthony Shadid is a must read.

By Emily Messner |  October 19, 2005; 9:17 AM ET  | Category:  Beltway Perspectives
Previous: A Defense of "MSM" Iraq Constitution Coverage | Next: The Facts: Ethics and DeLay, Rove, Abramoff, etc.


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Fascinating coverage of the debate on Iraq and its potential impact on the upcoming midterm and presidential elections. Gore in 2008! Saddam on trial (like O.J.)!! Economic and military quagmires!!! The fun just won't stop.

Posted by: Bob P. | October 19, 2005 03:44 PM

Has Iraq anything to do with the Miers nomination to the court? Here's a theory:

With approval ratings hitting the rock bottom because of unceasing violence in Iraq, failed federal response in the wake of Katrina, impending indictment of Rove/Scooter in the Plame disclosure, l'affaire DeLay, vanished WMD in Iraq and a host of such political disasters waiting to explode, the Prez comes up with the "bright" idea - Let's nominate a bosom buddy to the court.

This is the reasoning behind the choice: Miers will be thrashed by the conservative base; liberals will be suspicious of her paper trail; finally she will (or be asked to) opt out AND the Prez will nominate ANOTHER candidate recommended by the conservative base, thus regaining his lost popularity.

The Harriet Miers nomination was planned from the beginning to distract the nation from paying close attention to vital issues at stake.

Sounds like a conspiracy theory, eh?

Posted by: Lea | October 20, 2005 09:39 AM

I don't know about Miers nomination being pulled. The conservatives are probably happy with what it coming out about her past philosophy on abortion. Saying that, I know alot of the conservative criticism was that there were alot of candadites much better qualified. Its not that she was the wrong pic. The arguement is that Bush had so many other better pics.

Posted by: CF | October 20, 2005 05:33 PM

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