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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Search for Iraq Consensus

Terence Samuel takes on the question of the hour in his article in The American ProspectThe Fight We’re In: What’s the best way for Democrats to force Bush to end the war?” Samuel limns the current debate in the U.S. Senate this way:

The controlling intelligence, based on the political calculus of the moment, holds that the strategic approach is to leverage the president’s grim poll numbers and the unpopularity of the war into a non-binding resolution rejecting the surge, which in turn would further isolate the president, perhaps forcing him see the light and change the course of the war. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed such a measure, and next week we are likely see heated debate in the full Senate. (Republicans have threatened to filibuster it.)
But even given open skepticism about whether such a strategy could work on a president who is almost theological in his beliefs about the rightness of his chosen course, Democrats have bet almost all their chips on the congressional repudiation strategy.

Meanwhile, Novak reports that a the effort to craft a Biden-Warner sponsored resolution supported by a super-majority has collapsed on Warner’s decision to go it alone. Samuel quotes Senator Carl Levin’s rationale for the non-binding resolution:

Don’t underestimate the power of such a vote, says Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “You are further isolating the president,” says Levin. “The president is on one side and the American people are on the other.” The calculation is that squeezing the president politically is a wiser course than ending the war by cutting off the money to pay for it. Most congressional Democrats just don’t want to go there.

But others disagree. As Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders says:

At some point we are going to say, ‘We are not going to give you money to fight an endless war.

Sanders may be a minority in so saying, but he is not alone. John Nichols quotes Senator Russ Feingold thusly in his article in The NationExercising Congress’s Constitutional Power to End a War“:

Congress holds the power of the purse and if the President continues to advance his failed Iraq policy, we have the responsibility to use that power to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq…I will soon be introducing legislation to use the power of the purse to end what is clearly one of the greatest mistakes in the history of our nation’s foreign policy.

Sanders and Feingold get some support from a recent Newsweek poll, conducted 1/24-25. Asked “Since the Iraq war began, do you think Congress has been assertive enough in challenging the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war, or has not been assertive enough?,” 64 percent responded that Congress has not been assertive enough, compared with 27 percent who thought it had. But asked whether Democrats should try to block funding for the surge in a Newsweek poll conducted 1/17-18, respondents were equally divided at 46 percent.
It’s hard to imagine a tougher call Senate Dems will have to make between now and the next election. The consensus that finally emerges may well determine whether they hold their Senate majority in ’08.

5 comments on “Dems Search for Iraq Consensus

  1. Susan H on

    We can count on the Dems. There are a very few who are willing (and have been willing) to stand up and be counted. Barbara Boxer. Nancy Pelosi. Patrick Leahy and Russ Feingold. Dan Akaka. And the recent arrivals to the cause, now that they think the worm has turned. Put all of them together, and it will still be ‘way too scary for the majority to do anything at all. Does this seem like deja vu all over again?

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  2. JRBehrman on

    Dems long ago surrendered the power of the purse. They cannot micro-manage this war in a few months after decades of bi-partisan Great, World, and Cold War budgetary obscurantism, log-rolling, and extra-consitutional “ledger”-demain.
    If we — and “I are one” — want to take responsibility for avoiding the next war — Iran — and, indeed, for sustaining what even with the most enightened policies on our part may be generations of “Fourth Generation Warfare” we cannot avoid, Dems have to take a forward-looking approach to “providing for the common defense”.
    That is not the same thing as rolling the log back and forth across the aisle and providing “hold harmless” protection to our Army of the Potomac and Victorian Navy.
    The gas-bags in the Senate cannot do this. It takes a disciplined House to take over $150bn out of the budget for particular things: Star Wars, F-22, DDX, an so on, all of it, authorization, appropriations, … terminated.
    And, I would put about $75bn more in for the Special Operations Command and the Marine Corps. They have procurement shops that by-pass the rotten Pentagon-Congressional System of pork and patronage.
    So, what will the GOP do? The Senate cannot conference back in that which can only originate in the House, and the President cannot fund by decree. Even George III of England could not do that. So, will our King George veto funds remaining “for the troops” if, say, the F-22 is not there or LRL is shut down altogether, or both?
    The rough part, of course, is that there are still a few union jobs in government-owned, contractor operated defense plants even those square in the middle of GOP Congressional Districts. So, there will be collateral damage in the military part of our post-industrial economic moonscape.
    Still, it is time to send that pair of field-grade officers in their official car and Class A uniforms out to some huge mansions with a few big contract termination notices, not just endless next-of-kin notifications.

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  3. S Hagius on

    Nobody in Congress wants to be unpopular. So they take the easy, and wrong, way out again and again and again. I think eventually, and probably SOON, the chips will fall and all this chicken talk is going to cost a lot of legislators their popularity and their position.
    How can anybody possibly think that a non-binding resolution will stop the president? Even a binding resolution is unlikely to slow him down. When “God is on your side,” you don’t have to compromise. But that won’t stop people from holding the Democrats, and even the Republicans, responsible for the slaughter. Does nobody read the NEWS????

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  4. Doug7504 on

    I believe most Americans are not only frustrated over the President’s war, but over the last Congress’ unwillingness to act on so many crucial issues. The Republicans would seem to be banking on more obstructionism this term, and hope that citizen’s frustrations with this Democratic Congress will lead them back onto the Republican side of the ballot. High risk, for sure. However, if the Democrats fail to develop consensus on this as well as other issues, the tactic may well succeed. Democrats need to focus on the issues right now, instead of jockeying for early position in the race for the White House. After all, they were empowered in the last election because Americnas want leaderships and answers, not rhetoric.

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