It's a cardinal rule in Washington, for reporters and politicians: never let yourself fall behind a scandal, story or trend.
That's why we're starting to see a "recalibration" on Iraq by members of the mainstream media, and even some Democrats in Congress. As El Rushbo detailed yesterday, a shift appears to be underway inside the Beltway, with reporters and pols saying things about Iraq that were unimaginable just a few weeks ago. Look for more to join their ranks in the coming weeks, ahead of the September report by our top ground commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.
Obviously, this doesn't mean that Congressional Democrats and the chattering class are going to suddenly endorse the war effort, or proclaim that George W. Bush was right all along. Instead, this recalibration is designed to preserve credibility for the MSM (or more correctly, what little credibility they have left), and provide some maneuvering room for Democratic politicians.
In other words, they've seen the hand-writing on the wall. After proclaiming the troop surge a failure, they're now confronted by a new reality: the strategy is actually working, creating a strong case for continuing the effort into 2008, and (possibly) beyond. Making matters worse, evidence of the strategy's effectiveness was detailed in both The New York Times and the Washington Post--in less than a week.
The Times op-ed, written by two analysts from the liberal Brookings Institution, proclaimed that "we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq," while the Post highlighted the growing numbers of Iraqis who are joining security forces and fighting terrorists. General Petraeus describes this as "the most significant trend" in Iraq over the last four months or so.
Gains described by the Times and Post are likely to find their way into Petraeus's upcoming report, so that puts the MSM (and their Democratic friends) in a difficult position. Unable to refute the evidence that General Petraeus will offer, they're staking out a "modified" position, moving away from their early proclamations about the "failure" of the surge. Little wonder than panelists on Chris Matthews' weekend show--all card-carrying members of the establishment media--were discussing why the U.S. shouldn't leave Iraq too soon (H/T: Newsbusters).
Then, there's this little item from today's edition of the Post, suggesting a similar shift among some Congressional Democrats. Interviewed during one of the paper's webcasts, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina said that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by General David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party's efforts to press for a timetable to end the war. And, in a rare display of full political disclosure, Clyburn said that a generally positive report would be "a real big problem for us." He also urged House Democrats to "wait for the Petraeus report" before charting their next move in the battle over Iraq strategy.
Congressman Clyburn's comments are a thinly-veiled warning to other members of the Democratic Caucus and party activists who've been pushing for a rapid U.S. retreat from Iraq. He indicates that a positive report from Petraeus might cause members of the "Blue Dog" caucus to jump ship, making it virtually impossible to pass legislation aimed at reducing troop levels, or defunding the war effort. In the mean time, he's urging his party's anti-war wing (in other words, the majority of Democrats) to keep quiet, and avoid bucking possible evolutions in their "official" policy.
It's hard to imagine that most voters would accept--let alone, endorse--a sudden "change of heart" on Iraq by the Democrats and their cohorts in the MSM. But that will happen (and only reluctantly), if the present, positive trends continue. In the interim, a few reporters and Democratic politicians are trying to have it both ways, getting out in front of an potentially positive report by General Petraeus, while reserving the right to jump back on the anti-war bandwagon if conditions again erode. It's a particularly odious form of recalibration, but it's how media types (and some politicians) try to keep themselves ahead of the curve.
ADDENDUM: So far, none of the Democratic presidential candidates have followed Clyburn's lead, but it will be interesting to watch their Iraq rhetoric in the run-up to the Petraeus report. As Rush (and others) postulated yesterday, a more "modulated" Democratic position would benefit Hillary, giving her some separation from rivals who've proclaimed their perpetual opposition to the war. That may be true, but Mrs. Clinton still has to reconcile her original vote for the war, and more recent calls to abandon the successful troop surge.