THE TRUTH ABOUT...

THE TRUTH ABOUT IRAN MIGHT WORK -- BUT WILL DEMS TELL IT? Matt, Ezra, and Garance all give very thoughtful answers to my question below about Iran -- no question, arguments about cost and effectiveness should certainly prove more effective this time around. My concern, however, is that some Dems -- primarily the presidential contenders and their advisers, and we all know who I'm talking about here -- won't see it our way. It's hard to imagine Dems supporting a full-scale military adventure, but if Bush talks up limited strikes, some ambitious Dems might conclude that backing Bush's plan is the safest way to go -- that their presidential hopes will go up in flames if they don't appear prepared to use limited force against a regime with nuclear ambitions. I don't at all agree with that argument, but it isn't hard to imagine certain Dems thinking it. They might calculate that if anything goes wrong with the Iran adventure -- if it proves more costly or less effective than advertised -- Bush will be blamed, while they simply demonstrated that they were prepared to support the "Commander in Chief."

One wants to believe, of course, that the president's hideously low poll numbers would lead Dems to conclude that they can take on Bush and win -- even (gasp!) on a national security question. But recent history isn't all that encouraging. One also wants to hope that Democratic primary politics will make life very uncomfortable for any Dem who backs Bush. My worry is that some Dems will try to have it both ways and offer qualified support for Bush's adventure of choice -- you know, something along the lines of, "Well, I'll support my Commander in Chief, but by golly, he'd better get it right this time!" They might imagine that if they make enough loud anti-Bush noises while offering limited support for Bush they'll manage to muddle through. This would be terrible for Dems as a whole, because anything short of rock-solid unity works against them.

As Ezra, Garance, and Matt argue persuasively, telling the truth actually could work this time -- and besides, it's really our only option here. My question, though, is: How do we persuade Dems with presidential ambitions to agree that telling the truth can work? The only answer I can come up with is developing a series of core messages that are so strong that even skittish Dems (or "hawkish" ones, take your pick) will take a flyer and unify around them. That seems to me the central tactical challenge on the table right now. How do we persuade Dems with presidential ambitions to tell the truth about Iran along with the rest of us?

--Greg Sargent

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