It's springtime for Congress, and the Washington
Dodgers are batting 1,000 in the exhibition season. No, I'm not talking about
baseball. I have just enough interest in sports to know that the Dodgers play
in Los Angeles and Washington's baseball team is the Nationals. The Dodgers I'm
talking about are the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, for
whom it is always exhibition season and dodging means not ending the war in
Two examples show how in this game, no balls count as a home run. The Washington
Post Express reported on March 2 that
"Just hours after floating the idea of cutting $20 billion from President
Bush's $142 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan
next year, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad was overruled by fellow
"'It's nothing that any of us are considering,' Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid, D-Nev, told reporters."
Then, the lead story in today's Washington Post begins with this paragraph:
"Senior House Democrats, seeking to placate members of their party
from Republican-leaning districts, are pushing a plan that would place restrictions
on President Bush's ability to wage the war in Iraq but would allow him to waive
them if he publicly justifies his position."
That's not pushing a plan, it is pushing on a rope, and the House Democratic
leadership knows it. You can almost hear their giggles as they offer the antiwar
voters who gave them their majority one of Washington's oldest dodges, "requirements"
the Executive Branch can waive if it wants to.
The kabuki script currently goes like this. Congressional Democrats huff and
puff about ending the war; the White House and Congressional Republicans accuse
them of "not supporting the troops;" and the Democrats pretend to be stopped
cold, plaintively mewing that "Well, we all agree we have to support the troops,
"Supporting the troops" is just another dodge. The only way to support the
troops when a war is lost is to end the war and bring them home. Nor is it a
challenge to design legislative language that both ends the war and supports
the troops. All the Democratic majorities in Congress have to do is condition
the funding for the Iraq war with the words, "No funds may be obligated or expended
except for the withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq, and for such force
protection actions as may be necessary during that withdrawal." If Bush vetoes
the bill, he vetoes continued funding for the war. If he signs the bill, ignores
the legislative language and keeps fighting the war in the same old way, he
sets himself up for impeachment.
What's not to like?
For the Democrats, what's not to like is anything that might actually end the
war before the 2008 elections. The Republicans have 21 Senate seats up in 2008,
and if the Iraq war is still going on, they can count on losing most of them,
along with the Presidency and maybe 100 more seats in the House. 2008 could
be the new 1932, leaving the Republican Party a permanent minority for twenty
years. From the standpoint of the Democratic Party's leadership, a few thousand
more dead American troops is a small price to pay for so glowing a political
Ironically, the people who should be most desperate to end the war are Congressional
Republicans. Their heads are on the chopping block. But they remain so paralyzed
by the White House that they cannot act even to save themselves. The March 2
Washington Times reported that
"Republicans in Congress – including most who have defected from President
Bush's plan to send reinforcements to Iraq – have closed ranks and are prepared
to thwart the Democrats' continued efforts to undermine the war strategy…
"All but one of the seven Senate Republicans that backed the anti-surge
resolution in their chamber say they will not support any funding cuts."
The likely result of all this Washington dodging is that events on the ground
in Iraq and elsewhere will outrun the political process. That in turn means
a systemic crisis, the abandonment of both parties by their bases and a possible
left-right grass roots alliance against the corrupt and incompetent center.
In that possibility may lie the nation's best hope.