Despite some very heroic efforts in the Senate by Feingold, Dodd and to a degree Reid (and a few others) and the heroic efforts in the House by members of the “Out of Iraq caucus”, I think we are getting closer and closer to a point where it is looking like many Democrats are “acting like they want to end the war” as opposed to actually, truly, REALLY doing whatever they can to bring an end to this war.
Smart politics? Who really knows at this point. Smart policy? Hell no – not when we have found out that the US has been arming insurgents, the Bush administration is desperately trying to find a way to bomb Iran, al Qaeda and the Taliban are running free in Pakistan and the only signs of any success in Iraq are either due to sectarian cleansing or areas where local tribes have taken the lead without much assistance from our troops. Oh yeah, more deaths and more potent attacks are happening every day, likely to lead to well over 1,000 more dead US troops before January 2009.
Last week saw two “real” votes with respect to Iraq. The Reid-Feingold resolution calling for the funding of a withdrawal garnered only 29 votes, and Webb’s troop rest amendment, which did get every Democratic vote but still failed to get cloture.
Senator Clinton made the rounds yesterday, and wouldn’t “get into hypotheticals” when it came to a full withdrawal by 2012. Now, on one hand, she says that she won’t vote for any more funding without a plan to “start bringing troops home”. She also says that doesn’t know what she would inherit, but has anyone else noticed the bar getting moved more and more by the Democratic Presidential frontrunner? I can understand not wanting to get pinned down into a position, but jeez - most of this country wanted the withdrawal to start this year, and most of the country doesn’t want us there anymore – let alone the Iraqis themselves. If she won’t commit to a full withdrawal within 5 years, then how is that a different foreign policy from the current one? To say that she wants to see the “start of a withdrawal” is very different from saying that there needs to be a timeline for a withdrawal or funding thought a date certain.
A BIG difference.
Other Senate Democrats are resigned to “trying to chip away support” from other republicans, however there is no mention of what exactly they will tie to the $200 Billion that is currently being requested by Bush. No hard timeline? No month to month funding? No additional benchmarks? What exactly will they do here? If you take some of the quotes, it doesn’t look too promising:
They are no longer entertaining the kind of compromise measures that some Democrats had proposed this month as an attempt to woo Republican defectors, and they said they would instead seek opportunities to hold votes that would more starkly contrast Republican support for the president with Democrats’ demands for withdrawal.
“The Republican leadership and the White House is getting them all to march in line,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who ranks third in the party leadership. “But it is marching further and further away from where America is. We just keep at it. It’s all we can do.”
Actually, Chuck, it is not ALL you can do. The funding for Iraq is not included in regular budgets. You can at least require that funds be part of the regular budget to show just how far out of whack the actual budget numbers are from the rosy projections. OR, you can NOT pass a funding bill. Or you can pass a funding bill that will only fund for a few months. There are many, many things that can be done other than to hold symbolic votes. What you ARE doing is pretending that you are doing all you can in order to try and convince more of America to vote for Democrats next year. And that isn’t nearly enough.
Symbolism doesn’t mean much to families of fallen soldiers or families of those who have crippling injuries from their service (and lack of proper armor, equipment and rest).
Over in the House of Representatives, there is a similar view that things just aren’t going to change much, despite the overwhelming view of Americans and over 70 members of the Out of Iraq Caucus:
During today's meeting, the progressive caucus, chaired by Representatives Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, once again called for Congress not to approve further funding for the war without a timetable for withdrawal. But the members did not come across as fired up to make such a measure happen. Nor did they threaten to break with Pelosi if legislation of this sort was not offered by the House leadership. They remain antiwar--but they came across as unsure what to do about it.
There is similar frustration by Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Steven Cohen as well:
"It is one of the worst times to ever be in the Congress of the United States," complained California's Maxine Waters. "We look incapable of doing what the public wants us to do." A downbeat Waters also said that "even though members of Congress were elected on a platform to get us out of Iraq, they have prioritized getting along instead of following their heart and intellect."
Steven Cohen, a freshmen House democrat from Tennessee who has steadfastly opposed the war, didn't point fingers at his Democratic colleagues but nonetheless shared Water's frustration: "I think our Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] is a good leader, but maybe the leadership would be stronger if there was hope in the Senate to get the votes."
Now, things are much tougher to get done in the Senate, but here is a situation where Speaker Pelosi can set the tone by bringing some bold measures to the floor in the House. If it is true that “there is a new Congress in town” as she said months ago, then it would be nice to actually see something other than more toothless bills and “recommendations” that will certainly be ignored.
As this excellent OpEd by Bennet Kelley notes, it is time that the Democratic Leadership realizes that it has to take the reins here and drive the debate and the situation with respect to Congress’ role in Iraq – even moreso when there is no plan or any desire to do anything more than pass this disaster off to the next Congress and administration:
Congress must face the reality that, while they have provided deference to the Commander-in-Chief's prerogative to plot military strategy, it has a duty to act when the Commander-in-Chief has no strategy at all or remains in a state of denial. The Democrats have given the president ample time and resources to demonstrate that we are on a path to success in Iraq. The reality is that, after losing more soldiers during the first six months of the surge than during the entire first year of the war, we are no closer to success than before.
The Democrats should reach out to Republicans to see if a veto and filibuster would prove compromise can be reached. If the Republicans continue to prefer slogans over strategy and false optimism over results, the Democrats have a duty to the people who put them in power and the families of our troops to hold firm and even refuse funding if necessary. Democrats must remember that, now that they are in power, it is not just Republicans that voters will hold accountable for Iraq in November.
I think this is key – and it goes against the “all we can do” lies of Senator Schumer. If the Democrats hold strong with a specific bill that passes without a veto proof majority, they will still have done their part. It is then incumbent on the republicans and Mister Bush to determine whether they want to end the funding or continue the occupation on the Democrats’ terms.
This is exactly where the Democratic Party was back when the funding bill was being discussed in April and May. They caved then, and things got markedly worse. The same options are available, yet, contrary to their belief, the climate is even more in their favor to do something strong and let the republicans vote against funding with real conditions.
That would be doing all they can. Not pretending that they are doing all they can.