Wednesday, May 23, 2007

And this explains why the description of this blog says I "will likely be an independent..."

I started writing this post late last night, then decided I needed to calm down and get some sleep so that I could compose my thoughts in a more objective and rational manner. Sleep helped a little, but not much. There is still some semi-disjointed ranting here, but I really don't care at this point.

After weeks of talking tough about funding the Iraq war, the Democrats pretty much totally caved in. As in "wimped out." As in "showed they are spineless."

Last night's coverage of this deal on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" last night reflects my sentiments:
OLBERMANN: Good evening.

And you thought that big statue of Saddam Hussein fell over quickly and symbolically and with surreptitious help.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, right up there with the fall of Baghdad itself, you can now add the fall of the Democratic Congress, agreeing to fund the conflict in Iraq without any timelines for withdrawal, with mere benchmarks, which the president can waive, Democrats in the White House reaching a so-called bipartisan agreement to keep funding the war through September without holding President Bush accountable.

After weeks of refusing to back down to the White House, today Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pretty much did just that, only days after rejecting a measure put forward by Republican John Warner as too weak, today Mr. Reid accepting an agreement that looks remarkably like the Warner war supplemental funding bill.

The agreement would fund the Iraq War through September, requiring President Bush to give Congress reports on Iraq‘s progress. As for benchmarks, yes, there are benchmarks. And the president has the ability to waive the benchmarks, the only possible fly in that ointment, emphasis on the word “possible,” Speaker of the House Pelosi saying earlier this evening she would not be likely to vote for anything that does not have timetables in it, adding she would wait to see what the final draft of the legislation actually says.

Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: How the hell is this anything if the president can waive the benchmarks?

FINEMAN: I really want to play Texas hold-‘em with these people, because what they were doing, the Democrats, was pushing piles of chips into the middle of the table with each card, and then when the last one came by, they folded.

And I talked to one of the top Democratic strategists on the Hill just a few minutes ago, and I say, How do I describe this? A cave, a punt, a collapse? He said, Take your pick, that‘s what it was. In the end, we had no choice, because the president had the votes, that is, the president could sustain a veto in the Senate.

OLBERMANN: How, though, small problem with this entire exchange. Obviously it would have required a back and forth throughout the summer to do anything other than what they did. But how do they sell going along with the president on funding the war in Iraq with these sort of optional benchmarks, not even optional, they‘re just formalities, and sell that to the Democrats?

FINEMAN: Well, I think they‘re going to have a hard time. And tonight, Nancy Pelosi was out there with her team of leaders, saying this was the beginning of the end of the president‘s policy in Iraq. Rahm Emanuel said that with a straight face, but I know Rahm, and I know he doesn‘t believe it.

I mean, this isn‘t the end of the beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning of changing the president‘s policy. There‘s nothing in this bill that affects the president‘s policy. He‘s going to get the $100 billion that he wants, and there essentially are no real strings attached. So after all these weeks, after all of what this Democratic strategist on the Hill told me was kabuki theater, the Democrats basically got nothing, and they know it.

OLBERMANN: And the Pelosi comment that she‘s not going to vote for anything doesn‘t have timetables in it, is that more kabuki theater, or what did she wind up not voting for this while the rest of the Democrats do?

FINEMAN: Well, that‘s just pure embarrassment. What‘s going to happen on the House side, I think, Keith, is that most Democrats won‘t vote for this, or at least a lot of them won‘t vote for it. And it‘ll probably pass the House with a lot of Republican votes.

So you have this so-called compromise with the White House that Rahm Emanuel described it as the beginning of the end of the president‘s policy in Iraq, that the speaker of the House is probably not going to vote for, or at least she indicated she might not. It‘s confusing, to some Democrats, it‘s embarrassing. To a lot of Democrats at the grassroots, it‘s probably going to be infuriating.

I talked to some of the leaders of some of the antiwar groups earlier today as this was being argued over. They were furious. They were holding their fire. But I guarantee they‘re not going to hold their fire now. They‘re going to look forward to the fall. They‘re going to say we‘re going to refight this this summer, and then in September, and, yes, this is the president‘s policy, it‘s still the president‘s war.

But this Democratic Congress was elected primarily to change the course of this war, and so far, and especially tonight, they haven‘t done so.
(emphasis added). Let me explain further why this really pisses me off. It's not about the policy. It's all about the Dems being spineless and stupid. So what if Bush was going to veto a bill and there are not enough votes to override such a veto? Send Bush a bill that gives him all the money he wants but that calls for some--ANY--level of accountability. He vetoes it. Immediately send him another bill that he can sign. That way the Democrats can claim that 1) they tried to change the course of policy in Iraq, 2) the only reason they could not do that is because Bush kept it from happening, and 3) given the speed with which another bill got sent to Bush, the Democrats did not withhold funding for the troops. In other words, that course would have enabled the Democrats to make a strong statement, still "support the troops," and then pin the blame for Iraq continuing to be a cluster fuck on Bush.

Instead, the Democrats wimped out. They are too concerned with being blamed for "not supporting the troops." There are ways they could have gotten around such a charge (some of which I will discuss in a subsequent post), but they are too scared to even try that. Many of them made Iraq the #1 issue in the midterm elections. After the Dems got slim majorities in both the House and Senate, many of them were saying "now we have a national mandate to change things in Iraq." If that was and is true, then why in the hell are these cowards now refusing to even try to show they are acting in accordance with that mandate?

Moreover, the Democrats should have taken the course proposed above at least two months ago. They knew in November that they had slim majorities in both houses, meaning that they knew in November that there was little chance they would be able to override any Presidential veto. Negotiating with Republicans and the White House on this funding deal was thus a strategic blunder. The GOP and the White House never were going to try to resolve the negotiations quickly. That would do them no good. The longer the negotiations went, the chances would increase for them to say that the Democrats were making this a political game, were not supporting the troops, were being defeatist, etc. (and of course, that's exactly what they did). Furthermore, the time spent on "negotiations"--which Bush made clear all along were never going to be true negotiations--has been a big reason why the Dems find themselves in this position. Now they seemingly have no choice but to give in so that the troops can get funded. All of this could have been done months ago, and had the Dems acted months ago, their options might have been more numerous.

The Dem leadership is already trying to sell this deal as a win. I am not even going to dignify that crap. They caved in, they showed no resolve, they showed they are gutless.

Here's what Sen. Russ Feingold had to say about this deal:
Under the President’s Iraq policies, our military has been over-burdened, our national security has been jeopardized, and thousands of Americans have been killed or injured. Despite these realities, and the support of a majority of Americans for ending the President’s open-ended mission in Iraq, congressional leaders now propose a supplemental appropriations bill that does nothing to end this disastrous war. I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation’s history. There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action. Congress should have stood strong, acknowledged the will of the American people, and insisted on a bill requiring a real change of course in Iraq.
Again, my complaint is not about the policy per se. My complaint is that the Dems are once again being complicit in the mess that always has been and continues to be Iraq. In many ways, this is no different than Democrats overwhelmingly voting for the Iraq War Resolution and the USA PATRIOT ACT. However, there is one big difference. This time around, they have shown that even when they talk tough and seemingly have national support behind them, they still lack the guts to make a stand.

UPDATE ON 5-26-07: I realize that the Democrats had previously sent a bill to Bush which he vetoed about a month ago, and that the Dems could not get enough votes to override that veto. That bill contained a date certain by which withdrawal was to start. In other words, it had a definite timeline. So there was no way another bill could have a timeline. However, benchmarks--actual, real benchmarks with consequences for failure to meet them--could have been part of another bill. Instead, the Democrats did not even do that much. Moreover, if the Democrats had sent the first bill to Bush months earlier, they would have had plenty of time to try one or two more bills before the Memorial Day holiday. Even if those subsequent bills were vetoed, there would have been time to do what they eventually did, but at least they could have shown that they had some spine in the meantime.


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