Friday, February 23, 2007

Ending the War, pt. 2.

The Washington Post reveals today that Senate Democrats will unveil a plan next week to revoke the 2002 AUMF that gave President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq:

"I've had enough of 'nonbinding,' " said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who is helping to draft the new Democratic proposal. The 2002 war resolution, he said, is an obvious target.

"The authorization that we gave the president back in 2002 is completely, completely outdated, inappropriate to what we're engaged in today," he said.

This effort will fail. A new resolution requires the approval of the President, and so even if Democrats could find enough Senate Republicans to sign on and avoid a filibuster, it will face a certain veto. This does not mean it should not be attempeted, as I've said before. It will continue the process of isolating President Bush and the supporters of the war.

The article also reveals this unfortunate news:

House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha.

If you'll recall, Democrats initiated this plan precisely to avoid such charges. Edwards' comments vindicate my belief that it's wrong to approach this issue this way. Beyond the willingness of those like Edwards to shoot his own party in the foot uttering a complaint reminiscent of a right-wing smear, Republicans will cynically use the smear of not supporting the troops no matter what approach Democrats try to take other than completely and fully funding the war and its now on-going escalation. Democrats cannot end the war by anything short of taking the issue head on, and forcing the Republicans to defend their prosecution of the war (and by dragging their more recalcitrant members along kicking and screaming if need be.) Unfortunately, by backing away from the plan, House Democrats have only confirmed their willingness to stage their opposition around avoiding ridiculous accusations from Republicans. Such spinelessness-for that's what it is-will only help to prolong the war.

Publius understands this latter point as well, but he also argues for something less than a full-on effort to end the war:

Let me second this post by Yglesias and urge the MyDD/Feingold wing of the coalition to take a step back and get more realistic about Congress’s Iraq options. The goal of Democrats -- and their allies -- over the next two years should not and cannot be to stop the war cold turkey. The goal should be to politicize the issue in preparation for 2008.

There are several reasons why the Democrats simply can’t stop the war right now. First, and most importantly, Bush controls the White House. And he’ll continue controlling it until 2008. To end the war, you need someone in the White House who (1) is not Bush and (2) is not running on an “the-war-is-awesome” platform. Second, the Democratic majority is very narrow, particularly in the Senate given that it hangs on Lieberman. And numbers matter. Numbers are why, for instance, it was absurd to think that the Dems could stop Alito with 44 Senators. (Dems had 55 Senators when Bork got Borked).

The way around these obstacles is to gain bigger majorities. And you do that (as the 2006 election illustrated) by politicizing these issues and offering the public a clear choice about them. Dems don’t need a Pickett’s Charge, they need to position their pawns and view things from a longer-term perspective. The Democrats need to make Iraq a Republican vs. Democrat issue. They need to tie Iraq around the GOP’s neck in the court of public opinion. Make them defend Bush. Make them defend surges. Challenge them on their failures to demand accountability until it became clear in the late months of 2006 that blind support would be a political liability.

I believe that what Publius means by "politicize" is to make the war more of a liability for President Bush and the Republican war supporters. And he adds the important caveat, that the Democrats would use the war to their own political advantage only as part of a larger effort to ultimately end the war. Still, even reading that the Democrats should use the war to their advantage puts me off a little. And if it puts me off, you can imagine how someone who is considerably less pro-Democratic than I am might feel about such an approach (we'll leave aside the right-wing pundits and bloggers, whose arguments would be cynical and dishonest anyway.) I trust Publius' intentions, and those who would sincerely adopt this approach to end the war, but someone who doesn't can easily argue that this gives Democrats considerable motivation to talk alot about ending the war, but not actually do anything to end it for fear of losing their strongest campaign issue in 2008.

The problem with Publius' approach is that, in my opinion, he seriously underestimates the level of public disatisfaction with the war, and the amount of frustration that many Republicans feel with the President and the lack of progress in Iraq. He seems to believe that the war can only be ended once a Democratic president is in office, and once Democrats increase their majorities in the Senate and in the House. I don't believe this is true. The various efforts (a list at DailyKos I highly recommend surveying) to roll-back the war in some way are isolating the President and his supporters, forcing them to justify the war and the current escalation in ways that only appear to highlight the disconnect between the White House and events on the ground in Iraq (see Cheney on Britain's "success" in southern Iraq.) As Publius points out, this works to the Democrat's advantage because it taps into the substantial dissatisfaction with the war that exists among the general public. I'm not naive, and I know that President Bush can largely ignore the will of the public when it comes to the conduct of the war in the Iraq (only the rhetoric will change) but better to have the public mobilized behind you than not, I say. That will put pressure on House and Senate Republicans, some of whom are already breaking away from the war supporters, and who would very much like to pre-empt another sweep in 2008 by backing measures that will de-escalate the war. And if such efforts still fail in the face of White House opposition, then at least you've lined up more voters for 2008.

Still, the ultimate goal should be ending the war in Iraq, by threats and an actual effort to defund the war if necessary. There is no reason to wait for January of 2009 to begin doing this. De-funding doesn't have to be the only measure the Democrats rally behind; in fact it's better if there are many, that allow more wiggle room for Republicans to sign on and show their opposition. But the ultimate goal should be to put political pressure on the Republicans, get enough support to pass budget measures (which are filibuster-proof) that limit the war, with the ultimate goal of de-funding the war entirely, or only funding a radically limited mission in Iraq. If this cannot be accomplished before 2009, so be it. But to fail to attempt it is to waste the opportunity to end our involvement in this ruinous war, and save countless more American casualties.

So no, I don't think the "Feingold faction" should "cool it down." As indicated by the actions of the House Democrats, the anti-war critics need to do the exact opposite and turn up the heat on recalcitrant Democrats to end the war, and end it as soon as possible, not with an eye towards 2008.

UPDATE: John Aravosis registers his support for the plan to revoke the 2002 AUMF:

Anyone who was concerned that non-binding resolutions were too nice, well Harry Reid just gave you your answer. The non-binding resolution was a necessary first step. A legislative shot across the bow. And the Republicans killed it. So now we have no choice but to try sterner stuff. The Republicans can't complain that what we're proposing is too extreme, too risky, when they refused to let us try the non-extreme, non-risky alternative. Anyone who complains about Democrats "micro-managing the war" will need to explain why, then, they didn't let the Congress pass a bipartisan resolution that wasn't micro-managing the war at all. We gave Bush and the Republicans a chance and they blew it.

I like this, a lot. And I suspect a majority of the American people are going to like this. And that matters now, and through 2008. The American people no longer support this war. As George Will said recently, there is no anti-war movement, we are an anti-war nation. Republicans oppose our ongoing, ever-increasing efforts to stop the madness at their own peril.

Again, this effort will almost certainly fail. But that doesn't matter. Everything should be part of the larger approach to de-fund the current approach to the war, and that will only happen when Bush and the pro-war Republicans are politically isolated. And this will only happen when the Democrats act boldly to take advantage of public opposition to the war, and press their advantage through a variety of resolutions. No, the war will not end tomorrow. But again, there's no sense in waiting until 2009 for what can be done this year or next.

UPDATE: More on the now-utterly failed Murtha plan. Honestly, reading this dispiriting article, you have to wonder if the Democratic leadership even have the stomach to end the war.


Nat-Wu said...

I agree 100%. If Dems follow the course of action proposed by those who think they should politicize the war, they will lose many votes in the next election. Probably including mine.

adam said...

Here's also a good primer of where the presidential candidates stand: