So what was last week’s congressional debate about the war in Iraq all about? Was it just an exercise in group therapy that gave every member of Congress an opportunity to unburden himself about this long, cruel war?
Or was it a chance for everybody in the legislative branch to jiggle the commander in chief’s elbow in the midst of a delicate combat operation, a k a the Surge in Iraq?
In another war, the decisions of another president and commander in chief were regularly second-guessed by a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. But at least when Abraham Lincoln finally found a successful commander in U.S. Grant, that congressional committee didn’t take up a resolution saying his new approach would never work. Nor did its members threaten to cut off support for the war.
Was last week’s gabfest just an opportunity for a bevy of presidential hopefuls to position themselves for the campaign of ‘08 by aligning themselves with the latest public opinion polls? (Clearest case in point: Hillary Rodham Clinton.)
Or was all this speechifying just a chance for the new Democratic majority in Congress to pass some anti-war resolutions so the leaders of the party can say “We Told You So” when this new strategy proves as disappointing as the others?
Just as some politicians overdo their natural hubris when it comes to celebrating victory (Mission Accomplished), others glory in American defeat (see the Vietnam Era). Call it a different kind of flag-waving. Only with a white flag. I’ve never been sure which is worse.
Does anybody really believe this debate in Congress was an attempt to support the troops in their latest push? How — by solemnly resolving that their efforts will prove to be in vain?
Here is the still new speaker of the House sounding retreat: “The stakes in Iraq are too high to recycle proposals that have little prospect for success. The passage of this legislation will signal a change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home.”
If this is how to support the troops in the field — by telling them their latest offensive is doomed — then what would undermining them be?
Let us now praise John Murtha, Pennsylvania member of Congress and obstructionist in chief where this war is concerned. At least he’s been candid about the intention behind these resolutions telling the chief executive how he may and may not execute this war.
By imposing all kinds of requirements on spending for the war, said Mr. Murtha, Congress “stops the surge for all intents and purposes because (the administration) cannot sustain deployment.”
Our troops in Iraq could now find themselves in a two-front war to protect their supply lines, one against the enemy and one against the Congress of the United States. It’s starting to sound like Vietnam Redux.
Was this anti-war resolution by the House but the first step in cutting off funds and supplies for the war in the midst of what may prove a decisive campaign?
If so, the American people won’t easily forgive those who would make the troops suffer for their anti-war principles. Or at least the American people shouldn’t.
John McCain, senator from Arizona and a pillar of resolve as Congress’ will to prosecute this war dissolves, skipped the debate in the Senate entirely, calling it meaningless. After all, the Constitution makes the president, not the Congress, commander in chief.
Yet this debate in both houses of Congress has served one useful purpose. Because the roll calls at the end will provide a handy list of those sunshine soldiers ready to lay down their packs and give up when prospects seem bleakest.
That same roll call will also confirm which of our congressional leaders aren’t about to give up in perilous times. Names like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman come to mind.
And should this new strategy somehow succeed, and the men and woman of the armed forces of the United States once again do the improbable, not to say impossible, the roll calls in the House and Senate will provide a handy list of those political leaders back home who never wavered in their support. And their names will shine.
So maybe this “meaningless” debate has served a purpose after all.
Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.