by Jonathan Singer, Wed May 02, 2007 at 09:17:50 PM EDT
The headline on the front page of tomorrow's edition of The Washington Post reads as follows: "Democrats Back Down On Iraq Timetable". Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray have the rest of the story for the paper.
President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq.
Democrats backed off after the House failed, on a vote of 222 to 203, to override the president's veto of a $124 billion measure that would have required U.S. forces to begin withdrawing as early as July. But party leaders made it clear that the next bill will have to include language that influences war policy. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) outlined a second measure that would step up Iraqi accountability, "transition" the U.S. military role and show "a reasonable way to end this war."
"We made our position clear. He made his position clear. Now it is time for us to try to work together," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said after a White House meeting. "But make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war."
There are a number of reasons why this is exactly the type of story the Democrats do not want to see on the issue of Iraq. To begin, and this is extremely important, on a policy level is well past time to bring American military involvement in the Iraq War to an end. America is investing too much, both in terms of dollars and lives, for a cause that is not winnable militarily. What's more, that which America can still accomplish in Iraq is not necessarily contingent on a continued military presence in the country. As such, the suggestion that the Democrats are giving up on the cause of ending the war is extremely problematic.
On a political level, too, standing down to the President on Iraq is quite problematic. While one can argue as to whether the Democrats were elected in 2006 to end the war in Iraq -- there is certainly a case to be made that this is true, but others might argue that the Democrats' mandate on the issue is more properly defined as bringing "change" to America's Iraq policy, whatever that means -- it is clear that a strong majority of Americans favor setting a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq (57 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll; 59 percent according to a recent Pew Poll; 64 percent, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll; etc.). As such, there is real risk for the Democrats in not going far enough rather than going to far to end the Iraq War.
And on a meta level, headlines like this from The Post spell trouble for the Democrats. Josh Marshall has what he calls the Republican Bitch-Slap Theory of Politics which states, and I'm just paraphrasing here, that whenever the Republicans hit the Democrats and the Democrats don't hit back effectively -- whether in the case of John Kerry and the Swiftboats or the battle over ending the war in Iraq -- it makes the Democrats look weak, both as related to the specific issue but also more broadly ("Someone who can't or won't defend themselves certainly isn't someone you can depend upon to defend you", writes Marshall). By backing down so quickly on this issue, the Democrats don't exactly exude strength.
I will admit that I don't know exactly what the answer is on this issue. I tend to favor the strategy, espoused earlier by some including Jack Murtha, of sending legislation to the President that covers a more limited amount of time, funding the war for perhaps two or three months, and continue to do this until enough Republican votes are peeled off to force the President's hand. A number of Presidential candidates have layed out alternative strategies, with John Edwards advocating that the Democrats continue to pass the same bill they had already passed and force the President to continue to veto it, Bill Richardson favoring legislation that would deauthorize the war, and Chris Dodd backing legislation that would set a firm deadline, for example. Whatever the case, I'm quite skeptical that "back[ing] down" on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, as The Post put it, is the best course of action for Congressional Democrats.