Thursday, March 22, 2007

How can something so wrong be so right?

Would that the House Democrats’ version of the Iraq supplemental funding bill was as tough as today’s New York Times editorial makes it sound.

The legislation does not settle for more empty promises — from Mr. Bush and the Iraqis. It would require the president to provide Congress, by July, with an initial detailed report on Iraq’s efforts to meet these benchmarks. By October, the Iraqi government would have to complete a specific set of legislative and constitutional steps. Failure to meet these deadlines would trigger the withdrawal of all American combat forces — but not those training Iraqis or fighting Al Qaeda — to be concluded in April 2008. If the benchmarks were met, American combat forces would remain until the fall of 2008.

The measure would also bar sending any unit to Iraq that cannot be certified as fully ready. It sets a reasonable 365-day limit on combat tours for the Army and a shorter 210-day combat tour limit for the Marines.

Perhaps I missed something, but the last time I checked, things in Pelosi-land were a little less ironclad. While this legislation lays out the—um, I dunno, let’s just go ahead and call them “benchmarks”—benchmarks as detailed above, the actual hard-and-fast enforcement language was stripped out of the bill last week. Again, maybe the Times knows something I don’t, but I feel pretty sure that the Democratic leadership knuckled to conservative Blue Dogs and gave Bush the ability to “waive” the requirements if he, well, let’s not spin this, if he feel like it.

Benchmarks benched—end of story. . . sort of.

That this bill is so fatally weakened disappoints me no end. However, the way the paper of record perceives the legislation tells me I am not wrong in advocating for its support.

You see, no matter how loose or strict the timetables, guidelines, or benchmarks are written by Democrats, I feel pretty secure in saying that President Bush and his royal loyals will oppose them. . . and it won’t be because they find the enforcement mechanisms to be too lax.

No, a line has been drawn in the beltway sandbox, and George Bush has drawn it: Congress is not to tell the president how to run the war (or the country, for that matter)—not even rhetorically. Any move that enhances perception that Congress is a coequal in governing is strictly verboten.

And this is where I say: Bring it on. As long as the New York Times (and all the other establishment media sources I have personally heard or read) wants to place the Democrats on the side of benchmarks that will bring an end to US involvement in the day-to-day carnage of Iraq’s civil war, and as long as the Republicans want to say that the Democrats’ position is unacceptable, I am feeling pretty good about the political landscape.

In other words, Bush will veto the bill, no matter how strict the strictures, so it is better to give him something to veto. With nearly three-quarters of this country completely fed up with the war in Iraq and Bush’s “leadership” of it, setting up the “Dems want out—Republicans want to stay” dialectic is acceptable to me from a political strategy point of view.

Of course, beyond the political strategy, the humanitarian in me wants more than a nice-sounding dialectic, and I hope that the Democratic leadership would use this victorious defeat (passage leading to veto) to build a stronger coalition and a stronger bill. But, after so many years of an imperial presidency and a fawning fourth estate, and so many months of hearing how Democrats “don’t have a plan” to end the war (to which I would usually reply: They don’t have a plan, they have at least three good plans), I find it encouraging to hear that Democrats are being closely tied to the more popular position—and that would be a rational redeployment of American troops.

So, sure, I think the New York Times has got it all wrong, but, today anyway, that might just be all right.

(cross-posted to Daily Kos)


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