THE WAR: IT'S HERE, IT'S REAL, GET USED TO IT. Yesterday's scummy GOP political stunts over Iraq were, of course, scummy. At the same time, though, Democrats are paying the price for the ostrich-like attitude they've taken to the war ever since the 2004 election. There's been this persistent hope that either the Bush administration would declare victory and go home, or else that the mounting casualties, costs, and unpopularity of the venture would somehow allow a bipartisan truce to prevail letting Democrats wage a campaign that's all about ethics and prescription drugs.

There's a lesson in yesterday's events that Democrats need to learn, and quickly: The Republicans are confident -- very confident -- about the politics of national security. Confident enough to try and sell a war based on bogus intelligence. Confident enough to, in the wake of the intelligence's evident wrongness, simply revise history and say it was about something else. Confident enough to try and make the war a winning issue years after it's launch, even though it's unpopular.

Democrats need to be prepared to fight this battle. They need to figure out what they think about Iraq and then they need to put in whatever time is necessary to craft a compelling message out of that policy. And they need to do it before they get ambushed by congressional Republicans, and before something or other forces them to talk about the war. And, no, totally unprincipled gambits don't count as an answer to this problem.

--Matthew Yglesias

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