White House press secretary Tony Snow is right about one thing:Democratic resolutions on Iraq may be non-binding, but the war–andnow its escalation–is “very real.”
Just because the Bush Administration is out of touch with realitydoesn’t mean that Democratic leaders should react in kind. Manyhigh-ranking Democrats seem to believe that a symbolic Congressionalvote against Bush’s escalation of the occupation will be enough to change the President’s mind. “If you really want to change the situation on the ground, demonstrate to the president he’s on hisown,” Senator Joe Biden told the New York Times. “That will spark real change.”
Not likely–even if a significant number of Republicans vote against escalation. Bush is already on his own. Upwards of 80 percent ofAmericans–and more than half of the military, including the JointChiefs of Staff–oppose sending more troops to Iraq. The presidenthas no intention of governing by consensus. Just ask his father’sbest friend, James Baker. Bush’s idea of bipartisanship, as his speech tonight made clear, consists of talking to Joe Lieberman.
His admission last March that future Presidents will decide whento withdraw US troops from Iraq was no slip. The only way Bush willlisten to the Congress is if they force him to, by refusing toprovide the money or the manpower to escalate the war.
Jack Murtha get this. So does Ted Kennedy. As he said yesterday atthe National Press Club: “We campaigned as Democrats in 2006. And wemust govern as Democrats in 2007. We have the solemn obligation nowto show the American people that we heard their voices. We will standwith them in meeting the extraordinary challenges of our day – notwith pale actions, timid gestures, and empty rhetoric, but with boldvision, clear action, and high ideals that match the hopes and dreamsof the American people. That is our duty as Democrats and asAmericans on the war in Iraq.”
In the Democratic response to Bush, Senator Dick Durbin hinted at Congressional action beyond passing a non-binding resolution. “I believe we need to go beyond that,” Senator Barack Obama said tonight. The logical next step is legislation introduced by Kennedy andRep. Marty Meehan, which simply and effectively states that “no funds can be spent to send additional troops to Iraq unless Congress approves the President’s proposed escalation of American forces.” Presidential candidates John Edward and Tom Vilsack have endorsed such an approach.
Criticism alone will not be enough to stop the President in thisinstance. In an important post, blogger Chris Bowers likens the comingfight over escalation to the 2005 battle to save Social Security. “Inthe Social Security fight, Democrats ended up looking like heroes notjust because they weren’t those evil Republicans who tried to destroySocial Security,” Bowers writes, “but rather because Democrats werethose stalwart fighters who prevented Republicans from destroyingSocial Security.”
The difference between then and now is that in 2005 Bush claimed”political capital”–at least briefly. After a year of ineptness bythe President, Democrats won in ’06 precisely because voters wantedthem to keep Bush’s powers in check, particularly on Iraq. “We[Democrats] were swept into office,” Bowers writes, “not just becausewe voiced support for withdrawal or opposition to Bush’s policies,but with the expectation that we could stop Bush’s policy.”
A large majority of Americans in a recent CBS News Poll want andexpect Democrats in Congress to try and decrease or remove all UStroops from Iraq. But 82 percent of those polled say CongressionalDemocrats have still not developed a “clear plan” for resolving theconflict. Blocking Bush’s escalation will go a long way towardconvincing skeptical Americans that Democrats have an idea about howto end the war.