Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A victory for whom?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

For more on the new Democratic war-funding bill, the one without a timeline for withdrawal, the one that I addressed here, see WaPo.

Here's how that distinguished (deservedly or not) publication puts it on the front page of today's edition: "Democrats gave up their demand for troop-withdrawal deadlines in an Iraq war spending package yesterday, abandoning their top goal of bringing U.S. troops home and handing President Bush a victory in a debate that has roiled Congress for months."

Oh, really? How is this a victory for Bush? Because the timeline isn't in it? What a narrow way to define victory. I have already made the case that a timeline wasn't in the Democrats' best interests, but, regardless -- if I may quote my own post linked above -- the Democrats have made their points, backed Bush and his Republican supporters into a corner, and, if this bill passes, set up another and likely more pressing battle with Bush once the fiscal year ends at the end of September, General Petraeus offers his assessment of the surge (which isn't working), and a few more months of Republican discontent, as well as ongoing failure in Iraq, have passed.

How is that failure? It isn't. WaPo gets it wrong. (By way of comparison, see CNN, which offers this: "[Leadership aides] said Democrats won't give up on a deadline for pulling troops out of Iraq, hoping to write language into defense appropriations and defense authorization bills over the summer." They also "said... benchmarks would be tied to Iraq reconstruction aid and would require President Bush to present to Congress numerous reports before August". Well done, CNN.)

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Of course, not all Democrats are happy with the new bill. For example, Russ Feingold, whom I admire but with whom I disagree (somewhat, at least in terms of means) on this issue. He writes at Kos: "This situation is a collapse for Democrats. We had a strong start, pushed back against the President’s failed policy and held our ground that the supplemental should include binding language to end the war. But now, as Congress gets ready to send the President a bill that does nothing to get our troops out of Iraq, we are just folding our cards."

True enough, Democrats shouldn't play by Republican rules on this, nor by the Republican timeline: "Why should this wait until September?... Now is the time to be pulling out all the stops to end the war." Absolutely. Democrats ought to continue to apply pressure and to demand action from President Bush. The American people are on their side, as is the reality of the war, a failure that keeps going on and on. But the political reality is that Bush will not, at present (if ever), sign a bill with a timetable for withdrawal. No, we do not want Bush and the Republicans to manipulate the war so as to win it as an issue at home, but it seems to me that this bill is a decent compromise. If Bush doesn't sign it, then the Democrats can hit back hard. If he does, then they can still continue to push for an end to the war.

The cards have not yet been folded.

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