There's a bit of a kerfuffle over what Democrats said yesterday about a likely troop surge in Iraq.
On ABC's This Week, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unexpectedly said he would "go along" with a troop surge, if it is for "two or three months" and part of a plan to "be out of there" by the "first quarter of 2008."
He further said he would oppose a surge designed to last "18 to 24 months," because " The American people will not allow this war go on as it has." And in any event, "The war will not be won militarily. It can only be won politically."
Over on CNN's Late Edition, Sen. Jack Reed said he was "skeptical" of any 20,000 to 30,000 troop surge:
General Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, pointed out that surging troops without a purpose doesn't make any sense.
So I think we'd all have to understand what the purpose of this increase would be.
...What is the mission of these new troops? Are they going to go take on these sectarian militias? Are they going to simply augment troops that are on the ground today?
This is a city of 6 million people. It will require a huge number of security forces, not just another 15,000.
My sense is that this is more of a political gesture [for Bush's] base of right-wing neoconservatives who have been arguing for years and years and years that we just have to send more troops in...
...the key feature here, in terms of making a difference, is not so much adding additional American troops.
It's getting the Iraqi government to make tough decisions about taking on the militias, about purging their security forces of militia influences, of real reconciliation, which apparently didn't work this weekend; and providing services so that the 70 percent unemployment rate in some of these neighborhoods can go down.
Also on ABC's This Week, Congressman-elect Joe Sestak (the highest ranking veteran ever elected to the House) offered the firmest opposition to a surge, calling it a "band-aid," that lets "the Iraqis have more political and military dependency upon us."
Furthermore, Sestak framed his opposition in a deeper context of an alternative foreign policy direction:
The real loss is not Iraq. The real loss is overall security throughout this world.
Every day, my concern is, that we don't redeploy [out of Iraq] -- I see what's happening in Afghanistan, a just war. But now we are prey to terrorists in that country again ...
And you step back around the world, look at the real strategic center of gravity for this century -- the Western Pacific. We aren't able to pay attention, or have our security focused elsewhere around this world.
That's the loss I'm concerned about.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, on Fox News Sunday, also opposed a temporary surge:
I agree with the generals who have appeared before our Armed Services Committee and think an enhanced -- just as we saw the enhanced troops in Baghdad didn't quiet Baghdad down, the generals ... think that we would add to being a crutch for the Iraqi civilian government...
So how significant are these variations between Democrats?
Substantively, not very.
Reid's support for a 2-3 month surge is support for a nonexistent proposal.
Bush will not propose anything so tightly constrained. Reid will have plenty of room to oppose whatever Bush announces next month.
And the rest of Reid's messaging -- a goal of getting out militarily and seeking a political solution -- is fine.
However, Reid's comments were an unnecessary wrinkle in having a coordinated Democratic message.
It's hiccups like that which give an impression of more disarray than actually exists.
And it's a hiccup that can be rectified with a modicum of coordination in advance of Sunday show appearances.
At least, a little coordination ahead of time can get the sound bites in line.
But what is also needed, and will take more work, is coordination on the big picture.
How do Democrats frame their overarching foreign policy direction, and move the entire national conservation away from hair-splitting tactical disputes in Iraq, to fundamental choices about our international engagement?
Only Rep.-elect Sestak attempted to do that yesterday, and he did it well. But he should not be alone.
It should be a party-wide objective to start collectively painting their own global picture -- and not cede the deeper intellectual debate to psychotic lightweights like Newt Gingrich.