A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes he has the biggest piece.
- Ludwig Erhard, former Chancellor of West Germany (1963-1966)
After weeks of grandstanding, accusing Democrats of not supporting the troops, and insisting that he will veto any Iraq funding bill that includes a timetable for troop withdrawals, President Bush has softened his position.
Of course, for Bush, softening his position means agreeing to meet with the congressional Democrats, so long as they understand that he is not changing his position. That is kind of like saying that a defendant will get a full trial, so long as he understands that he will be found guilty at the end of it. Like in the old Soviet Union. Or the new Guantanamo Bay.
According to the Associated Press, Bush said about his offer to meet with members of Congress of both parties, "We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill, a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal and without handcuffing our generals on the ground. I'm hopeful we'll see some results soon from the Congress." AP Article
Bush might be hopeful, but his grasp of reality is slipping. His position is out of touch with the desires of the American people, evidenced both by opinion polls and the Republican bloodbath in the November 2006 election. Assuming Bush doesn't care what the American people think (he's the "decider," after all), I wonder if it bothers him that he is causing problems for Republican senators in swing states up for re-election in 2008. An anti-war group is already running ads in Maine and New Hampshire targeting Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) for their support of Bush's war strategy. CBS News Article Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) are also facing tough re-election battles in 2008, and the Democrats are even talking about targeting incumbents in states that would have felt safe earlier in the decade, like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Even the president's personal public relations firm (also known as Fox News) ran an article online that says that analysts think the Democrats are in a better position than the Republicans for the 2008 Senate elections. If you are Bush, and Fox News is telling you your party is in trouble, maybe it is time to listen. Or, it's a sign of the apocalypse, one or the other.
According to the Associated Press article, Bush said, "We're at war. It is irresponsible for the Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds they need to succeed." This statement is straight out of the pre-2006 election Bush strategy of convincing the American people that the Democrats are weak and do not support the troops. The problem with his tried-and-true strategy is that in November 2006, the American people told the Democrats, "we are sending you to Washington to oppose Bush on the war." Much like Bush himself, his strategy is a relic that is doomed to fail.
Bush's remarks are preposterous. The troops are not waiting for anything. The funding bill in question begins in the summer. To listen to Bush, you would think that the troops were sitting around in unarmored Humvees without enough body armor ... oh yeah, they are. But that is not the fault of the Democrats, but of the administration that has mismanaged the war for the last four years.
Bush says the Democrats are not supporting the troops, but he is. Was he supporting the troops in Walter Reed? The Democrats are supporting the troops by trying to get them out of the center of a civil war and keep them from dying in the service of a delusional administration that doesn't see that there is no military solution to this conflict.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) can walk along as many Baghdad streets as he wants and talk about as many baby steps as he feels is necessary to further sabotage his once-spotless reputation, but the weight of the evidence is that, in the end, the U.S. is stuck in a quagmire.
Ali Allawi, a top adviser to the Iraqi prime minister and a former finance, defense and trade minister, said in a Yahoo! article: "The time has come for the United States to take the lead, actually, in doing a U-turn." He went on to say that "The present framework of the Iraqi state is inherently unstable."
The Associated Press, in another article, wrote about how some Shiites are growing disillusioned with the government. That means the Shiites and Sunnis, who are killing each other around Iraq, can agree on one thing: the government that we are there to support isn't working. Sure, the article isn't claiming that this is the Shiite majority position yet, but the public discontent would have been unheard of three years ago.
The bottom line is that while Bush clings to his claimed minor improvements in the security situation, he is in complete denial about the big picture, which is falling apart.
As Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in the Associated Press article, "Iraqi leaders are not willing to take the political risk of governing their own country. That must change. That's what Congress is demanding. That is what the American people, by a large majority, demand. And the president should be leading us in that direction, not threatening to veto funding for our troops unless we rubber stamp his flawed plan."
When faced with these two arguments -- Bush's wild accusation that the Democrats are not supporting the troops against Reid's argument that Congress is carrying out the will of the people while seeking a political solution to the conflict -- even the normally sound-bite-loving American public will have to side against the president on this one. I am sure there are Republicans in Congress that would love to take over the pro-war argument, since there are more thoughtful arguments to make than "the Democrats are weak." For now, they are forced to fall into ranks behind Bush. But for how long?
While Bush's single-mindedness carried him to two presidential election victories (well, one clean win), his devotion to his own conviction that he knows what is best is now jeopardizing not only his political situation, but, more importantly, the lives of American military personnel.
Where Chancellor Erhard wanted the biggest piece of the pie, Bush wants the whole pie, and he wants everyone who disagrees with him to watch him eat it while he talks about how good it tastes. And, he is increasingly finding himself alone at the dining table. It is up to the Democrats to stand firm against Bush. Not just for the good of the country, but to give themselves the chance to take control of the dining room in 2009.