It’s springtime for Congress, and the Washington Dodgers are batting 1,000 in the exhibition season. No, I’m not talking about baseball. I have just enough interest in sports to know that the Dodgers play in Los Angeles and Washington’s baseball team is the Nationals. The Dodgers I’m talking about are the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, for whom it is always exhibition season and dodging means not ending the war in Iraq.
Two examples show how in this game, no balls count as a home run. The Washington Post Express reported on March 2 that
“Just hours after floating the idea of cutting $20 billion from President Bush’s $142 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad was overruled by fellow Democrats Thursday.
“‘It’s nothing that any of us are considering,’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, told reporters.”
Then, the lead story in today’s Washington Post begins with this paragraph:
“Senior House Democrats, seeking to placate members of their party from Republican-leaning districts, are pushing a plan that would place restrictions on President Bush’s ability to wage the war in Iraq but would allow him to waive them if he publicly justifies his position.”
That’s not pushing a plan, it is pushing on a rope, and the House Democratic leadership knows it. You can almost hear their giggles as they offer the antiwar voters who gave them their majority one of Washington’s oldest dodges, “requirements” the Executive Branch can waive if it wants to.
The kabuki script currently goes like this. Congressional Democrats huff and puff about ending the war; the White House and Congressional Republicans accuse them of “not supporting the troops;” and the Democrats pretend to be stopped cold, plaintively mewing that “Well, we all agree we have to support the troops, don’t we?”
“Supporting the troops” is just another dodge. The only way to support the troops when a war is lost is to end the war and bring them home. Nor is it a challenge to design legislative language that both ends the war and supports the troops. All the Democratic majorities in Congress have to do is condition the funding for the Iraq war with the words, “No funds may be obligated or expended except for the withdrawal of all American forces from Iraq, and for such force protection actions as may be necessary during that withdrawal.” If Bush vetoes the bill, he vetoes continued funding for the war. If he signs the bill, ignores the legislative language and keeps fighting the war in the same old way, he sets himself up for impeachment.
What’s not to like?
For the Democrats, what’s not to like is anything that might actually end the war before the 2008 elections. The Republicans have 21 Senate seats up in 2008, and if the Iraq war is still going on, they can count on losing most of them, along with the Presidency and maybe 100 more seats in the House. 2008 could be the new 1932, leaving the Republican Party a permanent minority for twenty years. From the standpoint of the Democratic Party’s leadership, a few thousand more dead American troops is a small price to pay for so glowing a political victory.
Ironically, the people who should be most desperate to end the war are Congressional Republicans. Their heads are on the chopping block. But they remain so paralyzed by the White House that they cannot act even to save themselves. The March 2 Washington Times reported that
“Republicans in Congress including most who have defected from President Bush’s plan to send reinforcements to Iraq have closed ranks and are prepared to thwart the Democrats’ continued efforts to undermine the war strategy
“All but one of the seven Senate Republicans that backed the anti-surge resolution in their chamber say they will not support any funding cuts.”
The likely result of all this Washington dodging is that events on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere will outrun the political process. That in turn means a systemic crisis, the abandonment of both parties by their bases and a possible left-right grass roots alliance against the corrupt and incompetent center. In that possibility may lie the nation’s best hope.