Against all odds, the Democrats in Washington, D.C., find themselves in an awfully awkward position. They're just six months removed from sweeping electoral victories based on a monumental Republican meltdown caused by political corruption in Congress and an incompetent, overreaching presidential administration. Yet the new party in power finds itself on the precipice of allowing a president, who's as unpopular as Richard Nixon was shortly before he resigned in disgrace, to have his way with them.
The issue: Iraq.
Those of us on the anti-war left—or, the radical-far-left, as Bill O'Reilly likes to calls us—want the occupation of Iraq to end yesterday. We feel buoyed by opinion polls taken last fall that seemed to show that voters wanted an end to the war. But a realistic look at the polls shows that the public has a more nuanced view.
No poll we've seen has shown that a majority of Americans favor taking the war purse away from the president, although they strongly support a clear timetable for the war's end. They feel better if Congress is calling the shots, but they don't want lawmakers to withhold the funding even if the president refuses to agree to timetables. Most interestingly, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in late April, 57 percent of Americans believe it is not possible to stabilize Iraq, and 55 percent believe it is not possible to achieve victory. Those numbers are compared with 36 percent who believe those goals are possible. In electoral terms, 36 percent is a landslide defeat.
We wonder how many people would think victory is possible if respondents were given more information about how the well of available troops is running dry. Tours of duty have already been extended beyond what it is reasonable for sustaining the troops' mental health, and we've tapped the National Guard to the point where the United States is completely unequipped for domestic catastrophes. For evidence, see Kansas.
Meanwhile, President Bush's strategy appears to be to stall the occupation until he leaves office. Even he can't really believe that “surging” 20,000 troops into Baghdad is going to stop the civil war. First, it's little more than a deadly game of “Whack-a-mole.” Second, it doesn't begin to address trouble in Iraq's west, east and north. So, Bush apparently thinks he can use “the troops” as political cover long enough to avoid having to admit failure in the very thing that defines his presidency.
Congress has several choices-none of them good. It can permanently cut off funding for the war. Each time Bush vetoes it, Congress can send back the funding bill that's tied to withdrawal timetables and political benchmarks. It can cave to Bush and give him the money with no strings attached. It can vote to de-authorize the 2003 war resolution (the effect of which is unclear). Or it can offer to Bush just enough money to extend the occupation into September, when Gen. David Petraeus says he'll know if the surge is working or not.
Since it's clear that there aren't enough U.S. troops available to stop the violence, and since there's no evidence that Bush has any idea how to end the civil war and achieve a political resolution, and since America will not tolerate a draft-which a prolonged occupation would require-why on earth would Congress choose to continue waste tens of billions more dollars and send hundreds more young American men and women to their deaths? Based on numbers from the last six months, another 415 American servicemen and women will die in Iraq between now and September. For what? To wait on a strategy that made no sense in the first place? Contrary to the rhetoric that equates de-funding the war with abandoning the troops, we believe the best thing we can do for the troops is to get them the hell out of there.
Inevitably, talk of an immediate pullout leads to difficult questions about the fate of the region in the wake of withdrawal. If you Google 'Slate' and 'Two ways out' you'll find an interesting piece by Slate's Fred Kaplan detailing two possible strategies for whomever moves into the White House in 2009. Kaplan notes that while neither strategy calls for immediate pullout, both suggest there might be regional benefits in doing so.
This is the message the Democrats need to keep hammering home: Bush has created a no-win situation; all we have to cling to is the hope that our exit from Iraq somehow calms tensions there and compels the warring factions to peacefully divide up the land and the wealth. In light of human history, we realize that's a naïve dream-but it's all we have.
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