Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Republicans Must Pay Political Price for Bush's Veto on Iraq

Nothing's over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!
- Bluto (John Belushi) rallying his fraternity brothers after they are expelled in "Animal House," screenplay by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller

s expected, President Bush vetoed Congress's war spending bill because it contained a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. It is now up to the Democrats in Congress to make their next move. Will they follow the spirit of Bluto in "Animal House" and defiantly fight on? Or, will they follow the example of, well, the Democratic Party and roll over and play dead?

Bush is still fighting, flying defiantly in the face of public opinion. In a move straight out of the classic administration playbook, the talking point that the president and others in the party have stuck to is that the Democrats passed the bill to make a "political statement." Bush's line of attack demonstrates how far removed from reality he is, and how entrenched he is in his positions, regardless of what the vast majority of Americans believe, according to polls and the results of the midterm elections.

What makes the Democrats' proposed legislation "political"? According to Bush, it is because he told Congress he would not sign a bill that contained any withdrawal timetables. In Bush's increasingly out-of-touch and megalomaniacal mind, if he makes a decision, it is the rule of law. Under that way of thinking, the Democrats' actions, which he has declared doomed to fail, could have no actual effect, and thus would only be a political statement.

Only, Bush seems to forget that the Republicans no longer control Congress, and, as a result, he no longer is the one and only voice in making decisions (his self-imposed "decider" moniker notwithstanding). He is now only one part of the process. But, it seems lost on Bush that his view on the proper make-up of a war spending bill is no more or less valid than the ones expressed by the House and the Senate. Instead, Bush's rhetoric sounds as if he is the Generalisimo of the country, and the Congress is his hand-picked body of lackeys to rubber-stamp his proclamations. For Bush to accuse the Democrats of making a political statement by passing a bill that expresses Congress's view of how the war in Iraq should be funded is to thumb his nose at the basic idea of governing within a democracy. And, in light of Bush's record of incompetence and dishonesty on the war, he has unmitigated gall to attack the Democrats for trying to impose order on a situation in disarray.

Bush is like a kid who spilled grape juice on the couch and now is mad because the Democrats want to use club soda to try and clean it, while he insists that he can get the stains out with more grape juice.

After the sham meeting today in which Bush will tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he will compromise on the spending bill as long as they agree to do exactly what he wants, the Democrats in Congress will have some big decisions to make. Some Democrats, especially in the House, do not want to vote for any funding bill that does not impose limits on Bush. Others seem afraid of being accused of putting the troops in jeopardy and are ready to fold and claim a moral victory for passing legislation that, but for Bush's veto, would have brought the war to an end, but will register no actual changes in policy.

The Democrats have done a good job of following through on their electoral mandate to bring the troops home, but I hope that the divisions in their ranks do not cause the party to drop the ball now. I think it is important that the Democrats do two things in response to the president's veto.

First, the Democrats have to fight harder in the rhetorical war. Bush and other Republicans are all over television talking about "political statements," Congress inserting its judgment ahead of the commanders in the field and Democrats putting the troops at risk. All of these claims are patently ridiculous, and it is incumbent on the Democrats to get out there and counter the propaganda before it takes hold.

The Democrats have to make the point that the war to topple Hussein is long over, and that the war that exists now is essentially a civil war between Shia and Sunni Iraqis. They have to make it clear that there is no "winning" or "losing" for the U.S. now in Iraq, any more than a city police department wins or loses in its battle against crime (assuming the police are visitors from another precinct and are outgunned and outmanned). The future of Iraq is wholly dependant on whether the Iraqis can get together and make the hard decisions on how to govern themselves and distribute their resources. No army can do that for them. And, as long as the U.S. has an open-ended military commitment to Iraq, the Iraqis have no incentive whatsoever to make these hard choices.

Second, the Democrats have to force Republican lawmakers to go on the record with as many votes as possible relating to Iraq. In November, the Democrats were swept into power on a single issue: voter discontent on the handling of the war. While the president is not standing for re-election in 2008, every Republican member of the House and many Republican Senators are. Bush's power to continue down a losing path in Iraq is directly enabled by Republicans in Congress who vote to sustain his policies. If the Republicans voted with the Democrats to overturn Bush's veto, he would be powerless.

For that reason, the Democrats have to make Republican lawmakers accountable for their actions. If polls are to be believed, the American people are no happier with the Iraq war today than they were in November when they tossed the Republicans out of power. The Democrats have to put pressure on Republican members of Congress and leave them with nowhere to hide. To paraphrase one of Bush's favorite expressions, the Democrats should make the Republicans decide if they are with Bush or against him. And, if they cast their lots with the president on Iraq, they will have to answer to their constituents in November 2008.

If only John Belushi was still alive (for more reasons than this, of course) to take on the role of Bluto one more time. He could walk into the Democratic caucus rooms on Capitol Hill and rally the troops, inspiring them to stay united and keep fighting to stop Bush from continuing his tragically flawed policies in Iraq. This time, though, Bluto shouldn't make a mistake identifying the country that attacked Pearl Harbor. After all, invading the wrong country is a mistake Bush has already made once.