Jack Kelly column repeats "slow bleed" rhetoric, results of dismissed poll

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

In a February 25 column, Toledo Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette national security writer Jack Kelly repeatedly suggested that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) had "outlined" a "slow bleed" strategy for dealing with the administration on Iraq without noting that the term "slow bleed" was invented by the media, has been promoted by the Republican Party, and is not used by Democrats, as Media Matters for America has noted (here, here, here, and here). In the column, which bore the sub-headline, "A 'slow bleed' strategy to stop the surge probably would backfire on the Democrats," Kelly wrote:

So the Democrats may adopt what's been called the "slow bleed" strategy. Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Johnstown, outlined it last week in an interview with the left wing Web site MoveCongress.org. The strategy would be to impose, through amendments to the defense appropriations bill, so many restrictions on U.S. troops that the president's plan for a surge would be hamstrung.

There are, from the Democrats' perspective, two clever things about the "slow bleed" strategy.

[...]

Let us set aside for the moment what the "slow bleed" strategy would say about the honesty and character of the Democratic leadership in Congress if it chooses to pursue it and focus on the wisdom, or lack of it, of making the sabotaging of the war effort foremost on the Democratic agenda.

As Media Matters noted, New Republic senior editor Ryan Lizza was apparently the first to use a version of the "slow bleed" construction to characterize the House Democratic leadership's reported strategy.

From Lizza's appearance on the February 13 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

LIZZA: And look, they're reading the same polls that we're all reading, and they realize that the American public doesn't quite -- there's not a big majority for defunding the troops, so it doesn't look like the Democratic leadership is going to go there. Instead, what you're going to have is a strategy led by Murtha, which is going to be to limit the number of troops available to President Bush by putting some restrictions on what troops will be allowed to be brought over to Iraq.

So that's the strategy that the -- that's the sort of two-part strategy: first, this nonbinding resolution, and then restricting what troops Bush can use. So, it's a sort of -- a slow bleeding of our ability to do much more in Iraq.

The phrase also appeared in a February 14 Politico article by John Bresnahan, which was posted to the Politico website February 15. As Media Matters noted, the Republican National Committee (RNC) cited Bresnahan's February 14 article and falsely claimed in a letter that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Murtha "call it their 'slow-bleed' plan." Media Matters noted that Bresnahan's article did not attribute the term to anyone and did not place it in quotes, suggesting that it was The Politico's own. In a February 16 article, Bresnahan clarified that the term "slow-bleed strategy" was The Politico's "characteriz[ation]" and "was not a term used by any Democrats or the anti-war groups supporting their efforts." He also noted: "The RNC, however, attributed the phrase to Democrats, and it was used in their e-mail alert." Still, Kelly used the phrase and wondered what such a strategy "would say about the honesty and character of the Democratic leadership in Congress if it chooses to pursue it and focus on the wisdom, or lack of it, of making the sabotaging of the war effort foremost on the Democratic agenda."

Later in his column, Kelly touted a poll which shows that by a "margin[]of 57-41 percent, those polled said Iraq was a key part of the war on terror and that U.S. troops should remain until 'the job is done.' " The poll in question was conducted February 5-7 by the self-described "Republican polling firm" Public Opinion Strategies (POS) and trumpeted on the front page of the February 21 edition of the New York Post. As Media Matters has noted, the poll conflicts with recent nonpartisan polling, and a Republican pollster reportedly dismissed it as "leading and designed to elicit the answers they got," in the words of blogger Greg Sargent.

The results of recent nonpartisan polls conflict with the POS poll. For instance, a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey, conducted February 7-11, asked respondents to indicate whether "the U.S. should keep military troops in Iraq until the situation has stabilized" or "bring its troops home as soon as possible." The majority, 53 percent, responded that the "U.S. should bring its troops home."

From Kelly's February 25 column:

Many Democrats in Congress believe the war in Iraq is irretrievably lost, or that it would redound to their political advantage if it were lost. But they don't want to be blamed for the consequences of defeat.

This has placed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in something of a quandary. The Constitution provides Congress with a means to end the war: Congress can cut off funding. But if Congress were to cut off money for the war in Iraq, and if all the bad things the intelligence community predicts would happen if we withdraw precipitously did happen, it would be pretty clear who was responsible for those bad things. And because it would be pretty clear who was responsible, many queasy Democrats in the House and Senate might not vote to cut off funds, giving the leadership an embarrassing defeat if it moved to do so.

So the Democrats may adopt what's been called the "slow bleed" strategy. Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Johnstown, outlined it last week in an interview with the left wing Web site MoveCongress.org. The strategy would be to impose, through amendments to the defense appropriations bill, so many restrictions on U.S. troops that the president's plan for a surge would be hamstrung.

There are, from the Democrats' perspective, two clever things about the "slow bleed" strategy. The first is that sabotaging the war effort in this way would not be nearly as clear cut as it would be by a vote to cut off funds, thus making it easier to evade blame for the consequences of defeat. The second is that if Congress passes a defense appropriations bill with these restrictions, President Bush would be left with three unpalatable choices: He could sign the bill and accept the restrictions, thus accepting slow defeat in Iraq. He could sign the bill and ignore the restrictions on the grounds that they are an unconstitutional trespass on his powers as commander in chief (which they would be), thus provoking a constitutional crisis. Or he could veto the bill, and thus risk defunding the war himself, should Congress not promptly pass a defense appropriations bill shorn of the restrictions.

Let us set aside for the moment what the "slow bleed" strategy would say about the honesty and character of the Democratic leadership in Congress if it chooses to pursue it and focus on the wisdom, or lack of it, of making the sabotaging of the war effort foremost on the Democratic agenda.

A large majority of Americans are unhappy with the conduct of the war in Iraq, and a majority thinks it was a mistake to go to war with Saddam Hussein in the first place. But recent opinion polls make clear that most Americans still want us to win, and think we can.

Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va. surveyed 800 registered voters Feb. 5-7. By identical margins of 57-41 percent, those polled said Iraq was a key part of the war on terror and that U.S. troops should remain until "the job is done." By 56-43 percent, respondents said Americans should stand behind the president in Iraq because we are at war, and by 53-46 percent they said Democrats were going too far, too fast in pressing the president to withdraw troops.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
Network/Outlet
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Toledo Blade
Person
Jack Kelly
Stories/Interests
Polling
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