The dilemma Democrats are going to face on Iraq is this. One element of the party is willing to say that the emperor has no clothes, that the war is a disaster, and that we should end it as soon as we can. Another group has gotten very good at saying that the war is a disaster, that the president is fucking things up, and then staying vague on what it is they actually want to do while simulaneously triangulating themselves away from the Democratic left. Now that Democrats have a measure of actual power, however, this moderate stance is going to be harder to maintain. Bush, after all, still holds all the real power over national security. What he'll try to do is sucker members of the second camp into, in effect, blessing his Iraq-related decision-making and threaten them with vicious smear attacks if they refuse to do so. Byron York shows us the way it's done:
Democrats are already circulating accounts of Robert Gates and Iran-contra. If there is a Chairman Levin, he will probably have a few questions. In fact, the Gates confirmation hearings will be an early test for Senate Democrats. They will undoubtedly realize that they need to suppress their desire to take an early scalp lest they face accusations of trying to undermine the troops and the war effort. But they'll be conflicted.
York also goes on to post a strong message of support Gates has already gotten from former senator Sam Nunn. And that's how it'll go. Moderate Gates-supporters will be used to smear further left Democrats who think it's unseemly to put (yet another!) Iran-Contra figure in an important national security post. Then they'll wake up a few months later and see that with Rumsfeld gone, they've lost their license to simply issue vague complaints -- they'll have personally endorsed the new leadership.
UPDATE: I forgot to say what I actually think Dems should do about Gates. My initial read -- subject to revision as we learn more -- is that they should take advantage of the presence of some hard-core wankers in their caucus. Blocking Gates is problematic. Giving Gates a seal of approval is also problematic. So, if Webb wins, let Gates come to the floor and let him be confirmed by 49 Republicans plus some combination of Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and Dick Cheney. That way Bush gets to keep running Bush's war Bush's way on Bush's say-so and Bush gets to keep reaping the blame when things keep going poorly.
UPDATE II: Um...no, this is moot. I'm on a conference call with Senator Levin and he says Gates will be handled by the lame duck congress.