- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

President Bush’s embrace of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ plan to bring upward of 30,000 troops home from Iraq will give Republicans new momentum in the 2008 elections, political and defense strategists said yesterday.

The strategists said Mr. Bush’s war policy change — the result of security gains in Iraq — has taken some of the wind out of the Democrats’ antiwar sails and thrown them on the defensive.

It “has to a large extent regained control of the Iraq debate for the Bush administration,” said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank.

By reducing the number of troops in Iraq to pre-surge levels of 130,000 by July, the administration has “co-opted the reductions argument of the Democrats,” he said.

Democrats, who say Mr. Bush is acting too late, have vowed to continue to push for a quicker and larger withdrawal. They say Iraq is still mired in a civil war in which U.S. troops should not be engaged.

But some Republican Party state chairmen predict security gains that tamped down violence in Iraq will help their candidates survive tough elections next year.

“This has been a positive week in turning the tide and will give Republicans some momentum going into 2008,” said Ron Carey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.

“I think it’s not inconceivable that a year from now a lot of people who were in opposition to the war will be saying Bush and the Republicans had the courage to do what was right and see that victory is possible,” Mr. Carey said.

Several Democratic Party state chairmen were asked for their political assessments of Gen. Petraeus, who testified about improvements in Iraq on Capitol Hill this week. The chairmen did not return phone calls as of late yesterday.

A Rasmussen poll released yesterday showed that 43 percent of Americans surveyed favored the Petraeus troop-withdrawal recommendation, 38 percent were opposed and 19 percent were unsure.

Most polls have shown large majorities of Americans opposed to the war, but a Gallup Poll this week revealed that their views on the war can be complicated and sometimes contradictory.

“The complexity of Iraq policy is underscored by the finding that even though Americans favor a timetable for withdrawal, they also believe the United States has ‘an obligation to establish a reasonable level of stability and security in Iraq before withdrawing all of its troops.’ Sixty-seven percent say this, while 29 percent disagree,” Gallup said.

Michael O’Hanlon, a top national security analyst at the Brookings Institution who advises Democratic candidates, said yesterday that both parties were still far apart on what direction to take on Iraq.

“I think, looking ahead to the fall 2008 presidential race, Americans want to see our military troops in Iraq reduced. But a separate and competing concern is that Americans do not want to see us defeated in such a strategically critical region,” he said.

Mr. O’Hanlon also expressed concern about his party’s antiwar posture on national security.

“I keep reminding people in my party that, among other things, Americans really value a serious approach to national security. Criticizing the president is not enough, and some Democrats, not all, seem to forget that at times,” he said.

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