Newsweek, Sullivan continue to present “stay the course” as a winner for the GOP

Despite the fact that most Americans favor the Democratic position of setting dates for the withdrawal of U.S.troops from Iraq and disapproving of the war altogether, Newsweek and Andrew Sullivan continued to present the Republican Party's “stay the course” platform for the Iraq war as a political winner.

In the wake of the Senate vote to defeat two Democratic proposals regarding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, both Newsweek and Time columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan continued to present the Republican Party's “stay the course” platform for the Iraq war as a political winner, without presenting any evidence and despite the fact that most Americans favor set dates for the withdrawal of troops, and disapprove of the war altogether.

In an article for the July 3 edition of Newsweek, general editor Jonathan Darman wrote glowingly of the GOP's “rebound” and “momentum” following the Senate vote, and granted anonymity to a “senior Bush aide” who praised the GOP and trashed Democrats:

But a place in the inner sanctum comes with its challenges -- and Kos [Daily Kos blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga] picked a rough time to join. Last week the GOP rallied around Karl Rove's “cut and run” battle cry and went on the offensive against a Democratic Party that was all over the place on the war. Sen. John Kerry was constantly on cable TV, touting an amendment requiring the redeployment of troops out of Iraq by July 2007; most members of his own party voted against it. The party had better discipline on a more gradual pullout measure backed by Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed, voting together, coordinating talking points -- and still going down to a sound defeat. The GOP was clearly on the rebound. “They're buoyed by Zarqawi's death and other steps in Iraq, but they're also strengthened by the disarray of the Democrats,” says one senior Bush aide, who asked not to be identified speaking about political strategy.

Democrats tried to downplay the significance of the GOP's momentum. “What this indicates is the White House is much better at sloganeering than they are at actually governing and conducting this war,” former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards told NEWSWEEK.

Still, the Democrats lost the week in the war over the war, and Moulitsas -- who chats with Senate leadership aides several times a week and has brainstormed with Democratic operatives about the fall campaign -- could no longer just criticize from the outside. Indeed, the Democrats' failed Iraq strategy -- stand together, talk tough and make plans to leave -- lined up exactly with the prescriptions found on Daily Kos.

Darman's claim that “the GOP rallied around Karl Rove” while the Democrats were “all over the place on the war” not only echoed Republican spin, it ignored: 1) the shared belief among a large majority of Senate Democrats that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq; 2) polling showing that this position is shared by the majority of Americans; and 3) strong public sentiment against the Iraq war -- which is strongly supported by Republicans. As Media Matters for America has noted, a CNN poll conducted June 14-15 showed that 53 percent of respondents favored a timetable for withdrawal, while 41 percent opposed such a measure, and only 38 percent of respondents supported the war, while 54 percent opposed it. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted June 9-12 found that 57 percent of respondents supported reducing troop levels now, compared with 35 percent who favored maintaining the current deployment, and that only 40 percent of those surveyed believed the war was “worth the number of U.S. military casualties and the financial cost.” Darman's claim that “the Democrats lost the week in the war over the war” is simply not supported by the facts.

Moreover, Darman touted the Republicans' “rall[ying] around Karl Rove's 'cut and run' battle cry” without noting the division among Republicans over the kind of debate the Republicans were engaging in. As Media Matters noted, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) strongly denounced on the Senate floor the “focus-group tested buzz words and phrases like 'cut and run,'” as “catchy political slogans that debase the seriousness of war.” Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) similarly complained that the “rhetoric is too heated” on the issue and said: “My soul cries out for something more dignified.”

And, as Media Matters for America has noted, Newsweek's guidelines for anonymous sourcing state that “the burden of proof should lie with the reporters and their editors to show why a promise of anonymity serves the reader,” and that Newsweek must “help the reader understand the nature of a confidential source's access to information and his or her reasons for demanding anonymity.” Darman simply repeated the senior Bush aide's reason for requesting anonymity. He failed to provide any explanation why this Bush aide deserved anonymity for praising his own party and trashing the Democrats, or how that anonymity served the reader. Newsweek's pattern of granting anonymity to high-level Republicans praising Bush or the party -- and not adhering to their own guidelines on anonymous sourcing -- has been documented by Media Matters (see here, here, and here).

On the June 25 edition of the NBC-syndicated The Chris Matthews Show, Sullivan similarly claimed that “Bush and the Republicans” have a “stronger” argument on Iraq than do the Democrats:

MATTHEWS: Andrew, let's talk about this whole shebang here. We've got these netroots out here -- you're a big blogger -- they are bloggers, they're talking constantly about how much they oppose the war and maybe how much they oppose pro-war Democrats. They really did successfully help that guy down there in Virginia win. What's his name? Jim Webb? He used to be a Republican, now he's a Democrat. He's now the nominee who they can run against George Allen for the Senate. They won that race, they're building big in Connecticut, are they the force to run the party in 2008?

SULLIVAN: Well, they're definitely a major force, and what they're able to do is raise money instantly through the Internet, which changes the dynamics of the fundraising primaries, which allows people to enter later, it creates more fluidity and more flux, as [panelist and Time columnist] Joe [Klein] was pointing out. It's very early on in the game. My view is that Americans don't vote on the past, they vote on the future. And the mistake the Democrats are making is by rehashing the past, which I think most of us will agree was screwed up in this war. Nevertheless, Americans are like, look, we're here, what do we do now? Are we going to pull out, are we going to turn this into another Afghanistan? Or are we going to stay the course? And on that argument, Bush and the Republicans are stronger.

Additionally, the New York Times reported on June 25 that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, “has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September.” According to the Times:

Proponents of General Casey's approach described it as a carefully synchronized plan to turn over authority for security to the new Iraqi government. The administration has repeatedly said that American troops will begin to stand down as Iraqi forces stand up and begin to assert control. Although the planning for 2006 is advanced, officials say the projected withdrawals for 2007 are more of a forecast of what may be possible given current trends than a hard timeline.

But critics of the Bush administration's handling of the war question whether the ambitious goals for withdrawing troops are realistic given the difficulties in maintaining order there. The insurgency has proven resilient despite several big military operations over the years, and previous forecasts of significant troop withdrawals have yet to materialize.

Now, after criticizing Democratic lawmakers for trying to legislate a timeline for withdrawing troops, skeptics say, the Bush administration seems to have its own private schedule, albeit one that can be adjusted as events unfold.

If executed, the plan could have considerable political significance. The first reductions would take place before this fall's Congressional elections, while even bigger cuts might come before the 2008 presidential election.

Given that Newsweek among others has breathlessly -- and with no evidence -- declared “stay the course” a political winner for Bush and the Republicans, will the media now highlight the seeming inconsistency -- as the Times has noted -- between the administration's “cut and run” smear campaign against the Democrats and the United States's top commander in Iraq's reported draft plan for the withdrawal of U.S. troops?