Democrats Can Revel in GOP's Troubles, for Now

The Democrats might be celebrating in the midst of the showdown with the White House over funding the war in Iraq. But they should look beyond politics, because the problem could soon be theirs to solve.

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NPR senior news analyst Ted Koppel says Democrats shouldn't be crowing about their showdown with President Bush over Iraq War funding. Koppel thinks Democrats should be thinking about the longer term.

TED KOPPEL: The Democrats, especially their presidential candidates are painting themselves into a corner. Their determination to force an early troop withdrawal from Iraq may put them in harmony with the majority of American public opinion. But what are they going to do if they win the White House and the bulk of American forces are still in Iraq?

That is not an unlikely scenario. This may be a particularly awkward day for President Bush receiving that tainted military spending bill on the fourth anniversary of his mission accomplished moment, but if the Democrats think that they're even close to accomplishing their mission they have another think coming. The president has no particular incentive to begin substantive troop withdrawals while conditions in Iraq remain this uncertain.

There is, first of all, a very real danger that Iraq's civil war will spill over into the rest of the Persian Gulf interrupting the flow of oil and natural gas. If anything is going to have a disastrous impact on the U.S. economy that would. But for purely political reasons, the president will also be inclined to keep significant U.S. forces in Iraq until the end of his term. If he withdraws all or even a majority of those troops while he's still in office, what happens next in Iraq and throughout the region can be placed directly at his feet.

If, on the other hand, the Democrats win the White House and most U.S. troops are still in Iraq, what do they do? Keep them in place and they've validated the Bush policy and broken their commitment to the American public. Pull them out and suddenly the Democrats are responsible for the chaos that ensues. There really are U.S. interests at stake in the creation of a relatively stable Iraq.

But even from a purely partisan point of view, the Democrats are making a mistake. They should depoliticize the Iraq issue. If anything, they should publicly hope for the success of the president's policies. If he wins, we all win. We don't want either our friends or our enemies in Iraq calculating their strategies on the premise of a divided and weakened America.

And it bears repeating, if George Bush doesn't succeed in Iraq and the Democrats win the White House in 2008, guess who inherits the problem? And you know how this works. After a few months, it will be their war. And if they have any strategy beyond simply pulling the troops out, wouldn't this be a useful time to put aside politics and start talking about it.

This is Ted Koppel.

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