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Republicans' October Surprise Plan In Jeopardy

[ Posted Thursday, May 22nd, 2008 – 15:14 UTC ]

General David Petraeus, testifying before Congress today (in the hopes that they will approve his promotion), may just have thrown a serious monkey wrench into the Republicans' election strategy, by killing one of their best hopes for an "October Surprise."

I wrote about this scenario two months ago in an article titled "Democrats Beware: 'October Surprise' Announced In Advance." The plan was to have Iraq hold its provincial elections this October, one month before our own. Images of Iraqis waving purple fingers and happily voting were to be the order of the day.

However, during a hearing before Congress today, General David Petraeus just shot down that plan. He said the elections would likely be delayed, and would not meet the October deadline.

From Reuters, here is Petraeus: "I do not believe that they [Iraqi elections] will be in October... Probably November is the more accurate prediction. But again there's every intention to have elections in the fall."

The last time the October deadline was in doubt, the White House reacted quickly. They dispatched their enforcer Vice President Dick Cheney to have a little one-on-one chat with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. Two days after Cheney visited, the Iraqis came out and said that the elections would indeed take place on time, by the end of October.

Back then, I wrote:

Every election season in American politics, speculation begins in late summer what the other side's "October Surprise" is going to be. What event will happen, what subject will be brought up during the final phase of the campaign, one month before everyone votes? Well, this year Democrats don't need to wonder any more. Because the Republicans have basically announced in advance what they hope to ride into office this year: provincial elections in Iraq.

. . .

Now that Cheney has knocked some heads together, the Iraqi election is going to happen a little more than a month before our own. And purple fingers are going to be "Exhibit A" this year in the Republicans' campaign strategy. Their storyline will go something along the lines of:

"We are WINNING in Iraq. We have achieved success after success, and the only way to continue this success is to put Republicans back in office. If you vote for Democrats, you are voting for failure, surrender, and probably treason. Vote responsible Republicans into office, and we can get on with responsibly declaring 'Victory' and getting the troops out of Iraq, while leaving behind a shining beacon of democracy for the entire Middle East to envy. President Bush was right all along, John McCain is right as well, and the only way we can continue this parade of victory is to elect John McCain our next president, and give him a Republican Congress to get the nation's business done safely, responsibly, and victoriously."

So perhaps, even as I write this, Dick Cheney is packing a suitcase and getting ready to travel again. It wouldn't surprise me in the least. Neither would the Iraqis coming out in a few days announcing their strong intention to have their election "at least a few media cycles before the American election"... oh, excuse me, that should read: "by the end of October."

The Republicans really only have three chances to have some "good Iraq news" to trumpet going into our own election. Iraqis voting would be the biggest one, because it provides the best video images. A second option is announcing further American troop withdrawals right before the election, but this wouldn't really be all that unexpected... so it's hard to see it being much of a "surprise."

The third option would have even less impact on American voters: the Iraqis passing an oil revenue sharing law. This has been the big prize that the White House has been pushing for years now, and if they could get it together in time it would be quite a political achievement within Iraq. Unfortunately, it's not going to help much within America. Voters will have a hard time getting excited about Iraqis divvying up the four bucks a gallon Americans are now paying for gasoline.

Even the first two options aren't going to work politically this year. Think about it -- the Bush/McCain line is going to be: "The 'surge' worked -- we told you so!" Video images of Iraqis waving purple fingers is supposed to be the icing on that cake. Even just being able to announce further troop withdrawals is a different side of the same coin: "Everything's getting better, troops are coming home!"

But Americans don't care much any more. This is why it's a losing strategy for Republicans. John McCain parrots the GOP talking point on Iraq all the time: "Americans want to WIN in Iraq, they don't want to pull out if it means LOSING." But opinion poll after opinion poll shows that this is simply not the case. The public is tired of the war. They want the soldiers out -- even sooner than either Obama or Clinton has proposed. They don't care what happens in Iraq after we leave. They just want it to stop. Poll after poll show that large majorities of the American public wants our Iraq misadventure to be over as soon as possible, no matter what the outcome. Importantly, these numbers have not changed one bit from where they were at the beginning of the "surge." They are now deeply ingrained in the American public. Voters would prefer things to be OK in Iraq after we leave, but it does not change their resolve to get our soldiers out if things don't turn out OK for the Iraqis.

This means that John McCain and the Republicans are running on: "We'll get the soldiers out, gradually, as victory is achieved." The Democrats are running on: "We'll get the soldiers out of Iraq in a safe manner over a year and a half, or so (NOT 'precipitously'... I did NOT say the word 'precipitously' or, for that matter 'immediate withdrawal' -- so don't say that I did!!)."

But the public is saying "Just get the troops out. Six months would be fine. OK, take a whole year to do it. But just bring them HOME. We could care less what happens afterwards."

The Democrats' message is going to be better received, since it is closer to what people actually want. The Republicans are going to be seen, at best, as "Democrat-lite" on the war, or else hopelessly painted into Bush's "endless war" concept.

Now, there could be any number of other possible October Surprises that Republicans may pull this year. But if "good news from Iraq" was really supposed to be it, then Republicans (from John McCain on down) may be in for their own surprise this year.

And, like the Iraqi elections, it will come in November. On our own Election Day.


-- Chris Weigant


16 Comments on “Republicans' October Surprise Plan In Jeopardy”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    Call me cynical, but I doubt the GOP is seeing the need for an October Surprise..

    Their "October Surprise" will be in August when Hillary will nuke Denver....


  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Just a couple of quick comments...for now...

    First off, Hillary "nuking" Denver is conjuring up all sorts of wild images...I shall be retiring tonight with a smile on my face. :)

    As for Iraq, it seems to me that what we are witnessing now is the relative calm before the storm. Unless there is a constitutional amendment that enshrines a sustainable power-sharing arrangement between the major groups in Iraq, the provincial elections and whatever reduction in violence there has been - directly related to the surge or not - will be meaningless and fleeting.

    And, if most people don't care about what happens in Iraq after US troops withdraw, they had better learn how to care...and soon.

  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    Yes, but when the American media leaves Iraq, do you really think the average American is going to see anything that happens afterwards? Look at Afghanistan, for example.

    I see the current situation in Iraq as a internecine fight between Maliki's favorite Shi'ite faction surpressing Sadr's Mahdi Army. While I have no idea how it's all going to shake out, I think this level of detail is beyond the average American evening-news-watcher. But that's just my humble opinion, I could be wrong.


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    First off, Hillary "nuking" Denver is conjuring up all sorts of wild images…I shall be retiring tonight with a smile on my face. :)

    I think I have found a kindred spirit.. :D

    As far as the Iraq situation, once President McCain takes office, I think we are going to see a situation akin to what was happening with Libya in the early and mid-80s. While it wasn't really known outside of the military, the US had a military presence in Libya. I used to work with cops stationed in Libya.. At the time it was very classified. Probably still is, so if I disappear, you'll know why. :D

    Seriously though, I think it's going to be similar in Iraq. Once the security situation stabilizes, troops will start deploying out and the second mission will be accomplished. But the large part of the US forces there will stay in permanent bases and we'll have a presence akin to Germany and Japan after WWII...


  5. [5] 
    BLaws wrote:

    Obama's October Surprise... Bob Barr.

    Barr is already polling at 8% in Georgia. If Obama starts giving Barr some national media attention by mentioning him, bringing him into the spot light, he could cause some siphoning of McCain's vote away to Barr. Even a few % in some states would be enough to flip them to blue.

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:


    Touche.. Good point. It will be interesting to see if the BARR effect will have any bearing on the national election..

    While I hate to keep harping on the same old point (really, I do!! :D) I have to say that I doubt anything can happen, short of McCain dropping from heart failure (a distinct possibility) that would allow the Democratic Party to claim victory. The Party could have JFK resurrected as their nominee and I don't think it it would help heal the divisions that the Dem party is facing..

    Like so many Scorched Earth policies, Clinton's seems to have gotten away from her and is not only scorching Obama, it's also frying any hope the Dems had about taking the White House this election.

    The only thing that is in doubt is how such a crash and burn will affect the downstream congressional elections.. Are the fractures and divisions and real possibility of race riots at the hands of the Democrats enough to turn the entire country against the Democratic Party??

    Time will tell...

    But hell, what do I know.. I predicted a new Civil War after the 2006 elections. :D


  7. [7] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    I think this election has become the ultimate test of which is better: bad publicity or no publicity at all.

    After the republican softball primary, McCain has not been tested very far and even though the RNC coffers are impressively full, if the campaign gets nasty, McCain has more to lose as he has more skeletons than Obama. There is a reason why Senators have a hard time getting elected president directly from the Senate, and the two who have were one termers. The nuances of legislation are usually trumped by one liner sound bites in campaign rhetoric.

    I still think Obama is going to mop the floor with McCain. People want change and when McCain gets knocked down a few pegs once the press really start to bring up his past, that should even things out to the point that people will see grampa putting forth Bush like policies and young, articulate Obama putting forth new ideas. They will go with change. Especially if October is bloody in Iraq and the economy worsens a bit.

  8. [8] 
    BLaws wrote:

    You are right. The one disadvantage for being a long term senator like McCain is there is so much on record it's hard to not "flip flop" on an issue at some point. The public really won't care to listen to why some change in voting is due to minor policy details or amendments or other inane details. They'll see a flip flop. For someone like McCain, that just cuts down his core "straight talk" persona.

  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    The problem as I see it is that having NO RECORD allows people to "make shit up" with the flimsiest of supporting evidence...

    On the other hand, while I do still have reservations about Obama (he hasn't come clean on his National Security intentions yet) I honestly believe, at THIS point in time, that he would be a better president for this country...


  10. [10] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    BLaws -

    You're right about not forgetting the Barr effect. I have been guilty of doing just that in my own thinking about the election, I admit.

    BashiBazouk -

    Good point about the leap from the Senate to the Oval Office. However, you can't really hold the "one term" thing against JFK, as he was assassinated. But you are right about having "a record" and it getting in the way during the election. Many, many Senators have tried, but only two made it. And JFK's victory was razor-thin.

    But you should check on that statement about the RNC having "full coffers" -- I hear they've been having a wee bit of trouble raising money. The House committee (the RNCC I think) only has about 3 or 4 million on hand, and they just spent over 1 million on a losing race in a red red red district in Mississippi. The Dem committee has something like 30 or 40 million on hand. And that's just in the House.

    Cash flows to the likely winners, and this year donors know that it's likely to be the Dems...


  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Eventually, the average American is going to realize - one way or the other - how interconnected the world has become while they have not been paying attention.

    The current situation in Iraq, as I see it, is a low-grade civil war resting just under the boiling point without any sign of leadership, whatsoever in more than five years, emanating from the US, Iraq, or from anywhere else on the planet.

    I will make this prediction: if we don’t soon see some movement toward bringing the warring factions together to hammer out a sustainable political accommodation based on federalism, then it will be Katie-bar-the-door time and the average American will see very clearly what will happen next, whether they want to or not...and they won’t need the media to point it out for them!

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    We may be kindred spirits, but we are currently occupying parallel universes, two ships passing in the get the picture...when it comes to Iraq and what its future will be.

    What do you suppose is going to happen to stabilize the security situation in Iraq? I mean, the warring Iraqi factions and sub-factions, etc. are not going to suddenly and miraculously solve their fundamental political differences, in the midst of a civil war, no less.

    There will be no stability in Iraq until these factions are brought together for tough political and constitutional negotiations. And, even if they succeed in charting a political course that they can all live with, I doubt that Iraq will ever resemble anything like the security situation that existed in post-war Germany or Japan...that just isn't a valid comparison, in my not so humble opinion.

    But, time will tell and time is running out. If Mr McCain assumes the presidency, as I still suspect will be the case - since I don't believe Obama would ever choose Biden as his running mate - Iraq won't even get to the political solution stage and then, of course, all bets are off!

  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    We may be kindred spirits, but we are currently occupying parallel universes, two ships passing in the night…you get the picture…when it comes to Iraq and what its future will be.

    Yea, but as I alluded to before, I am willing to wager that, besides Iraq, we probably agree on everything else.. :D

    As far as the end result for Iraq, the fatalist part of me sees another Vietnam. With US forces and personnel bugging out from atop the embassy..

    However, the rational part of me believes that THAT scenario just simply cannot be allowed to happen, as it would make every American here and abroad a bigger target then they have already been...

    Finally, the idealistic part of me feels that, EVENTUALLY, the people of the region will discover that it's infinitely more rewarding to work together to achieve goals than it is to massacre each other and put those goals out of reach..

    "Can't happen" you say?? It did in Northern Ireland with the IRA.... All it took was a British crackdown that made peace the best alternative to complete annihilation..

    Now, granted, the ideology is quite different, but the terrorism ideology is not..

    Time will tell as to which part of me is right..


  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Northern Ireland is a good analogy, in at least one sense. They had a lot of help - there was a political process involved, along with the British use of force, and the combination of both led to the Good Friday agreement.

    In Iraq, a political process has been non-existant. And, unfortunately, a political solution is not going to spontaneously materialize as the warring Iraqi factions miraculously come together to hammer out a new power-sharing arrangement that they can all live with, literally. The Iraqis are going to need help just to get them all to the negotiating table. That's all I'm trying to say.

  15. [15] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    BashiBazouk -

    I apologize - you had it right, I didn't. The RNC does have a lot of cash on hand right now, a bit more than the DNC has, I just heard reported.

    As for Northern Ireland -

    I think one thing that was present there that is entirely missing in the Middle East was the quasi-fictional "wings" of the IRA. The IRA, actually called by the Irish the "provos" or the PIRA (for Provisional Irish Republican Army), were the "military wing" or, if you prefer, the "terrorists." But (and this is what's missing in the Middle East) they also had Sinn Fein, which was the "political wing."

    Now, this may sound like splitting hairs, but it allowed the British diplomats to talk to Sinn Fein, in order to hammer out an agreement for power sharing in Northern Ireland -- while still being able to claim they were not "negotiating with terrorists."

    Got that? It's a diplomatic nicety, and almost everyone knew that Sinn Fein and the IRA were pretty much one and the same thing, but it let the Brits tell their domestic audience, much like Bush, that they would never "talk to terrorists," while still sitting down at a table with Sinn Fein.

    Hezbollah is a good example of someone who could benefit from such an arrangement. Hezbollah, in addition to being called "terrorists" by our government, also has an enormous "services" organization that is the only way for many people to get any sort of government services. For instance, in the war last year, after Israel bombed, within days Hezbollah was dispersing cash to people whose homes were destroyed. Compare that to our own response to Hurricane Katrina, for instance. They were on the ground, organized, and paying people cash money to rebuild their homes within days -- in the middle of a war zone. Now if you were a poor person who lived there, would you support them or not?

    Now, I am in no way comparing them as a "government" to us, and I'm not making any moral statement one way or the other, I'm simply stating that this is why organizations like this (and Hamas) are simply not al Qaeda-type terror organizations. They may do equally repugnant terrorist attacks as al Qaeda, but there's a difference. The difference is they are supported by the populace, because they're the only ones who do any good works for the people. And the difference between a group with the support of the people and one who does not often comes down to things like this. Groups without the support of the populace do not last long or achieve much. Groups that do have the people's support often transition into a political party and get absorbed into the government (in other words, legitimized), over time. The same sort of thing happened in Ireland, where the IRA had a huge base of support in the Republic of Ireland for their activities in Northern Ireland.

    Having said all that, though, I don't really know what parallels truly exist. The Middle East is its own situation. The problem for Bush (and for the US in general) is that we don't really have an answer for the situation with Hamas in Gaza. What do we do when a "terrorist organization" wins a democratic election? That is a big question, and one that may happen elsewhere in the Middle East, especially if democracy were suddenly to become the norm there. We complain about autocratic governments (like Egypt or Saudi Arabia), but changing them to democracies could wind up being worse for US interests, because of who they would elect. That's been a quandary for a long time in a lot of places in the Middle East, and I certainly don't have an answer for it. But I do think the question should be addressed.


  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:

    I have acknowledged that HAMAS has done some good things for their people. There is no disputing that. But, what good has been done is completely and 100% negated by the terrorism.

    CW is right.. Hamas should follow the IRA's example and create a "wing" that is (I can't believe I am advocating this) their terrorist wing and then have a group that is their political and "do gooder" stuff. It would make dealing with them easier and perhaps, as we saw in Ireland, end their terroristic ways..

    However, I still maintain that it was the Brits constant military and LE pressure that broke the back of the IRA and made the POLITICAL avenue much more attractive..

    I see that is what has happened in Iraq. US and Iraqi forces were crushing the Sadr militias so bad that it made the political carrot much more palatable.

    Unfortunately, Sadr became greedy and the US forces (due to political pressure from home) became complacent and now we're back to square one.

    I would also be constrained to point out that Hamas' democratic election was completely negated and voided when they violently seized control of power from the Abbas government in Gaza..

    At this point, Hamas is now what it always has been. A terrorist organization that is an impediment to peace in the region.


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