There’s Shrinkage 

Majority Democrats can’t find the balls to face down Republican brinkmanship

Wednesday, Feb 7 2007

LET ME MAKE SURE I GOT THIS RIGHT. We’re spending a couple of hundred billion dollars and investing — so far — more than 3,000 American lives to bring democracy to Iraq, but we don’t really want any of that exotic, messy stuff in Washington. Especially not if it embarrasses the president.

As we go to press, Senate Republicans have at least temporarily blocked the debate, and therefore the vote, on a packet of nonbinding resolutions that criticize George W. Bush’s escalation of the war for democracy in Iraq. Perhaps that’s just one of the moves listed in the standard American congressional playbook: When you can no longer win the political debate, the next best thing to do is to simply cancel it.

All fun aside, it was simply a putrid experience to watch, as I did, even a small portion of Monday’s verbal-flatulence contest on the Senate floor. Don’t want to be maudlin about all this, but as car bombs continued to blast Baghdad and IEDs continued to rip the limbs and lungs from our troops, the distinguished members of the U.S. Senate bickered over just how many votes — 50 or 60 — each proposed resolution would need to pass. What heroes!

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The Senate was supposed to be debating the bipartisan resolution cooked up by Republican Senator John Warner and supported by most Democrats, which, politely, states that it “disagrees” with Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops into the Iraqi hellhole. Struggling to avoid a humiliating public-relations defeat for their president, the Republican leadership blocked the vote by generating a dispute over which competing measures would be considered and how many votes would be needed to pass them.

Negotiations are under way, we’re told, to still reach some sort of agreement that will allow the debate to go forward. Democrats may do an end run by ginning it up in the House, where their larger majority gives them firmer control over procedure.

But let me be frank. The Republican blocking maneuver didn’t perturb me in the least, because the Republican filibuster offers the most clarity when it comes to seeing through the fog of all the versions and permutations of the anti-surge resolution that have any realistic chance of passing.

After all, the Senate motions are all nonbinding. They have no legal effect. And the language worked out between the Democratic leadership and some of the Republican dissenters to agree on the Warner resolution is so compromised, so squishy, that it has lost much, if not all, of its meaning. Better, for the moment, to allow the Republican abettors of the hideous war policy in Iraq to amply demonstrate to the American people their utter and unfathomable moral and political bankruptcy.

At least, why upstage or interrupt that show with a counterdemonstration of the Democrats’ own fecklessness? The resolution the Dems are rushing to rubber-stamp is but a limp, rhetorical statement that won’t save a single life or bring the war a day closer to conclusion.

Indeed, the only reason that the Republicans were able to successfully pull off their blocking maneuver is that they boldly called the Democratic bluff. The GOP demanded that a competing resolution by New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg be given equal treatment to the Warner resolution. Gregg’s measure vows that Congress will not cut any funding for troop levels in Iraq and was fashioned solely to put Democrats on the spot. And, unfortunately, it has worked. The Republicans might not want to go on the record criticizing Bush. And the Democrats are terrified to go on the record saying they might cut funding for a failing war they otherwise oppose. Taken together, it makes you want to cancel your C-SPAN subscription if not set your voter-registration card on fire.

Let’s hope the Republicans remain insanely intransigent and don’t cut a deal allowing a vote on the watered-down Warner resolution. Maybe this will force the Democrats to do what they ought to be doing: putting an end to their empty foot stomping about the war and getting down to the business of exercising the only real power to alter the policy — cutting off the cash.

That’s the next move put forward by hopping-mad Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who did a conference call with bloggers right after the Iraq debate was blocked on the Senate floor. Feingold’s fury was directed primarily at his fellow Democrats who continue to dance around the edge of the core issue. “The problem is a whole lot of middle-of-the-road Democrats who refuse to pull the trigger, who refuse to do what needs to be done,” Feingold said. “It requires courage. It requires brinkmanship.”


The primary political victims of the war in Iraq have been the motley crew in and around the White House. They’ve outsmarted themselves and — and at great human cost — have succeeded in destroying their political legacy and, most probably, the future viability of many of their Republican allies. Let Congress — including the Democratic majority — take good note of such self-immolation. Unless Congress can immediately step forward to provide a clear way out, it too will become one more statistic in this hellacious war.

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