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May 22, 2007

Ignominius Climbdown

By Carl Goldstein

Why on earth are Congressional Democrats backing down? The word today is that the House and Senate Democratic caucuses are finalizing a new war spending bill that would eliminate any kind of timeline for ending the war. In its place are "benchmarks" that could cause the Iraqi government to lose some foreign aid -- unless President Bush suspends the penalties.

What are they getting in return? Some $20 billion in domestic spending and a long sought raise in the minimum age.

Pretty damn paltry.

It's beyond me why the Democrats are acting like they're swimming against the tide of popular opinion. The reality is just the opposite. Poll after poll in recent weeks has shown strong support for the Democratic position, such as a mid-May CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showing that 54% of the public opposed Bush's early May veto of the Democratic-passed bill imposing a specific deadline for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq. By contrast, only 44% supported the veto.

Asked another way, 57% supported a deadline for beginning the withdrawal, while 41% opposed it. Other polls have shown similar results.

It appears that the Democratic leadership is so accustomed to its defensive crouch against Republican charges of being "weak on national security" -- the same reflex that led many Democratic officeholders to back the War Powers Resolutionin 2002 and so enable George W. Bush to lead us into this disastrous war -- that they just can't break the habit.

Why not just keep sending it back to Bush with timelines intact? Let him veto it. His claim that the Democrats are refusing to provide the money the troops need is pure baloney, and the public knows it. He is the one who is blocking the funds, and every time he mounts the White House rostrum to denounce the Democrats it becomes even more clear that the issue is his bloody-minded refusal to recognize reality and admit that his war (and his entire tenure in office) is a failure.

In fact, far from recognizing failure and adjusting policy, Bush has doubled down. Not simply with the "surge" we all know about, but with a quieter, mostly unacknowledged second surge that has led to a near-doubling of the number of combat troops in Iraq.

This despite the fact that the war has failed on every level. Recent reports from within the Bush administration reveal top security officials' admission that both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have grown stronger in the last year. Al Qaeda is now actually using its operations in Iraq (kidnapping for ransom, smuggling of oil and other commodities, bank robberies, etc) to fund expanded activities elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe. The organization has also rebuilt its command-and-control functions and is using the war -- and Iraqi revulsion against the US occupation -- as a prime recruiting and training tool.

A hundred or so US soldiers are dying nearly every month. Ron Paul, the Republican libertarian presidential condidate, said in the May 15 candidate debate that "the only thing worse than soldiers dying in vain is sending more men and women to die in vain." Odd to hear the echo of John Kerry's Vietnam era question -- "how do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?" -- coming from a Republican. Unfortunately, all too many in that party have stuck with Bush on the war. That may well change in the next several months, but it is their misplaced loyalty which has stymied the Democrats maneuvering against Bush and the war in recent weeks -- together with just enough defections by conservative Democrats to give Republicans some leverage.

Meanwhile dozens of Iraqis are dying every day in sectarian killings, insurgent attacks, as collateral damage in US military operations, or in some other type of mayhem. More than two million Iraqis have fled the country, with most huddled in miserable conditions in Syria and Jordan. Another 1.9 million have been displaced internally, according to the UN; most of these have been driven from their homes by sectarian strife.

The biggest winner from the war in Iraq has been Iran, which has seen its bitterest enemies Saddam Hussein and the Taliban eliminated courtesy of the US military. Iran undoubtedly takes some comfort from the knowledge that the vaunted US military -- far from imposing our will across the Middle East -- is strained to the breaking point just maintaining force levels in the Iraq theater, never mind attempting a major attack against another, stronger nation.

Internally, the winners are fundamentalist Shiite forces who see in the current situation an opportunity for payback against decades of repression at the hands of Sunni leaders (of whom Saddam Hussein was only the latest).

And it makes sense in a way that we're hearing questions not asked since the Vietnam days. That was the last time US influence and standing in the world was so degraded.

Posted by Carl at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)