Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Democrats Surrender to Bush on Iraq Funding

... we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ...
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, June 4, 1940 (from the Churchill Centre site)

President George Bush finally accomplished something he has long been unable to do in Iraq: He got an enemy to lay down and give up the fight. The Democrats indicated yesterday that they will send an Iraq war funding bill to the President without any timetables or limitations, according to a Yahoo!/AP article. In other words, after a bruising fight, the Democrats are going to hand Bush exactly what he has wanted all along.

Some will say Congress made a statement, letting the White House know that there is substantial discontent with the war and the way it has been conducted. I would argue that the message is actually the opposite. Bush will take from this that it may take a little effort, but even with Democratic majorities in both houses, he can do exactly what he wants.

I am gutted that the Democrats have laid down and quit.

I fully acknowledge that the Democrats were in a very difficult position. Their majorities in both houses are very narrow. Many Democrats are worried (and not without reason) that any failure to put funding in place would be successfully spun by the Republicans as the Democrats failing to support the troops. And, there are a lot of conservative Democrats who are conflicted about how to handle the war. In the Senate, there really is no edge at all, since Sen. Joe "I Think I Represent Red Alabama, Not Blue Connecticut" Lieberman seems to love the Iraq war more than Donald Trump loves himself. (If you live in Connecticut and do not want a Republican Senator, this Yahoo!/Bloomberg article on Lieberman will terrify you.)

Fighting on would have been a risk, but I believe it was a risk the Democrats should have taken. As I've said over and over again, the American people handed control of Congress to the Democrats for one and only one reason: They were angry with the country's Iraq war policy. Thus, the Democrats' one and only one marching order was to change that policy. By surrendering, they have failed. And I believe that the American people will not offer them a prize for second place. There will be no brownie points, and no "A" for effort. With more Americans dying, more dangers for America in the world, and more American resources being poured into a bottomless pit of a civil war while real problems rage around the world, the American people will blame the Democrats in Congress for not doing their jobs. Not only that, the surrender will confirm what too many Americans already believe, that the Democrats are weak.

(As an aside, the backlash to Bush and his policies is only beginning. For example, A USA Today article reported that one in four Muslims in the United States think that suicide bombing is acceptable in certain circumstances. It is naive to think that this administration's policies are not creating enemies around the world, not to mention inside our borders.)

I think if the Democrats went down fighting, they would have won in the long run. First of all, they would have been fighting to uphold their beliefs, something the party is too often accused of not doing. Second, they could rightfully argue that they were working to carry out the will of the American people and the mandate of their election, something for which they would ultimately be rewarded by the voters.

Finally, the Democrats should have fought on because it was the right thing to do. History will judge the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq as a tragic, disastrous period of American history, and the Democrats would have been lauded for opposing a corrupt and incompetent administration. Even if the Republicans had been successful in painting the Democrats as obstructionists to the troops, the short-term hit would have been far less damaging than the fundamental blow to the party that will come from the decision to back off and give the President what he wants.

How can any Democratic Presidential candidate who sits in the Senate (which, obviously, includes the two front runners, as well as a handful of also-rans) go in front of the American people and have any credibility in advocating change? How can they claim to be able to have the fortitude necessary to run the country during difficult times when they couldn't even stand up to a President with a 28% approval rating?

The Winston Churchill quote set out at the top of this piece was uttered at a time when his country was under attack by a powerful enemy, and there was a real question as to whether England would be able to survive, let alone prevail. (The entry of the United States into the war was still 18 months away.) I'm sure Bush would use the quote as a rallying cry for sticking with his war, but he would miss the key difference, that he is pursuing a policy that only threatens the security of his nation. I would not want to trivialize Churchill's quote by comparing the sacrifices and risks of the English people with the strategy decisions of a group of politicians, but I wish the Democrats would have adopted some of Churchill's passion and continued the fight against Bush's war. If they did, there would be that much less of a chance that the American people will someday find themselves facing the uncertain future of England in 1940.

The Democrats seem to be listening to Demosthenes, who famously said, "He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day." I fear that the advice is about as current as the quote (338 B.C.). It seems to me that now that the Democrats have run away from this fight, they won't be around for any battles after the November 2008 elections. Their surrender is more likely to give us another stretch of Republican control of the federal government, which certainly does not qualify as a win by any measure.

Within three hours of posting this article, I received two separate mass emails from the Democratic National Committee, neither of which addressed the party's surrender in Congress. One talked about how well Democrats were looking in some contested 2008 U.S. Senate races, and the other was about Alberto Gonzales. While those are important issues, the emails seemed ill-timed. The silence on Iraq was deafening. I would rather have received an explanation of the decision to cave on Iraq with a plan of attack on how the Democrats in Congress would move on the future to check Bush on the war. Alas, that email has not arrived.

And then later, a Yahoo!/AP article about the Iraq war funding bill that is likely to get passed had the following paragraphs:

Republicans said that after weeks of struggle, they had forced Democrats to give up their demand for a date to withdraw the troops.

"I'm optimistic that we will achieve the following: a full four-month funding bill without surrender dates. I think there's a good chance of that," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record) of Kentucky.

Rep. John Boehner (news, bio, voting record) of Ohio, the House Republican leader, added, "Democrats have finally conceded defeat in their effort to include mandatory surrender dates in a funding bill for the troops, so forward progress has been made for the first time in this four-month process."

It's only the first day, and already this is being spun as a loss for the Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's defense of the bill was not convincing, saying Democrats would look to other legislation to "continue our battle — and that's what it is — to represent the American people like they want us to represent them, to change the course of the war in Iraq."

It's a nice thought, but I'm afraid that in light of the Democrats' surrender this time, it will only embolden Republicans to fight any future bills.

I hope I am wrong, but already it looks like the Democrats' decision to give the President what he wants in Iraq is going to have long-term, negative represucssions for the party.