Yesterday afternoon the Senate lined up behind a March 31, 2008 Iraq withdrawal proposal after the House passed its own last week by a 218-212 margin. This is theatrics pure and pointless, since President Bush will shortly veto the bill and an alternative will need to be devised to carry forward the intended $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is brought to you by Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, whose last-minute reversal ensured that the Iraq timeline would remain in the bill by a 50-48 margin. Just two weeks ago a similar vote failed 48-50. Don’t forget Sens. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, and Gordon Smith, Oregon Republican, who bucked their party decisively. Then there is Sen. Mike Enzi, Wyoming Republican, who abstained.
This Democratic Congress is content to let Iraq sink into the morass. It prefers to “snatch defeat from the jaws of progress in Iraq,” in the unpoetic but accurate words of the courageous independent Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. In these early months of 2007, the outcome of the surge in Iraq cannot be known. If Gen. David Petraeus and the troops need a single thing from Congress right now, it is quietude. But instead of that — instead of even minimal tacit support — they get an effective vote of no confidence in the form of a dubiously constitutional legislative fiat to wind down the war. Of course, Democrats “support the troops.” Just not the mission for which they lay down their lives.
There is one lesson to be learned here: The Democratic Congress does not aim for an honorable end to the war. It aims to give the appearance of bold opposition to the war effort. Its chief effect is rhetorical — to give cover. The aim is to pin responsibility for Iraq squarely on President Bush, and on the Republican Party.
The truth is, Democrats want to look tough on Iraq withdrawal but are not willing to use Congress’s constitutionally unreproachable power of the purse to end the war. That would put Democrats on the hook for the consequences, at least in part, which the party cannot stomach as it eyes 2008. Too many Democrats already feel stung by their votes to authorize the Iraq war more than four years ago. So, instead of forcing the issue, Democrats engage in theatrics designed primarily to placate the anti-war base while attempting to suggest to the majority of Americans who are weary of Iraq that the Democrats hear them and are trying to take action — but for those scurrilous Republicans.