I appreciate what Derek Chollet is getting at with his warning that advocacy of a nuanced timetablish withdrawal from Iraq could turn into a political fiasco for the Democrats. Still, the general form of argument he's making here is something I think liberals need to learn to leave aside. Of course if Democrats advocate the sort of Iraq policy I'd like to see they'll be portrayed by the White House as cowardly appeasers. But then again, there isn't some alternative policy that will cause the White House to respond, "well, that's a serious-minded and patriotic alternative vision that contrasts sharply with our slap-dash and maniacal efforts to run the country."
That strikes me as right. On the other hand, it's often misappropriated to argue that content doesn't matter, Americans will be accepting of anything so long as it's delivered with sufficient conviction and since Republicans will attack every policy we offer, none are better political bets than any others. Might as well give Dennis Kucinich a podium and win the the battle of certainty. So we need to be careful with that.
Democrats happen to have a highly competent foreign policy establishment able, on a fairly regular basis, to provide us with broadly supportable and widely appealing policy options. What we don't have is the party coherence to push them or the messaging capabilities to defend them. More than the Republicans, the Democratic party stretches across the full spectrum of foreign policy opinions, from Dennis Kucinich all the way to Joe Lieberman. And that's a problem.