A strange thing happened this past January. The inauguration of the new Democratic majority should have been a cold day for the Iraq War hawks in the Republican Party and the White House. The Democrats rode a wave of discontent about the war to victory in the midterm elections of 2006. There was much high rhetoric and bold pronouncements that the end, if not all that near, was at least foreseeable.
The days of the rubber stamp Congress were supposed to have been over. The only circumstance that could possibly justify a further indefinite commitment to the occupation of Iraq was to be measurable progress. Despite a four-star general’s smokescreens, there has been none. As has become clear, the new majority is incapable of imposing its will on an entrenched White House and its partisan allies in Congress. Despite all the lofty promises of election year hubris, it was never all that clear that they could. But, the most distressing feature of this Congress is how unwilling they seem to be to try. The problem is the Senate.
Normally, when a party, such as the Republicans, has less than a majority in the upper house of our Legislative Branch of government, they have less than absolute say over the passage of bills, to put things mildly. However, the minority party has effectively used the threat of filibuster to derail any legislation designed to scale down our force levels in Iraq. It’s a tough constitutional lesson to learn that a majority is not really a majority unless floor debate on legislation can be closed. That, of course, takes sixty votes, nine more than the Democrats can reliably count on (assuming that Joe Lieberman is feeling Democratic that day). So minority opposition to these drawdown bills is to be expected. What’s frustrating is that the Democrats, to this point, have folded every single time they have been short votes to force cloture and the Republicans have threatened filibuster. Under the guise of maintaining a smoothly operating Senate, they have refused to make the minority party follow through on its threats.
It’s mystifying to think that a filibuster of antiwar legislation could be bad for the Democrats. It would firmly place the Republicans in very public opposition to ending a war that a majority of the country has given up on. It would thrust the GOP back into the Oval Office in the realm of public perception, a place they have now spent years trying to distance themselves from. Even when the Democrats tried to backdoor withdrawal, with Jim Webb’s proposal that would have forced the Pentagon to keep troops stateside for as long as they had been deployed, thus defusing criticism that Democrats don’t support the troops, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the rest of his charge rolled over like a rock going down a hill.
The war, as far as being a salvageable affair, is over. The president has no strategy for victory. There is no victory to be had, in any case. What strategy the president has is to make the occupation the next president’s problem. The Democrats were given Congress by the voters because they promised they could end the war. Even if such promises were inflated, the Democrats owe the people who put them in power at least an effort beyond proposals followed by quick retreat at the first signs of a fight. Our heavy involvement in Iraq could go on through 2011 or 2012, maybe even longer, without a serious effort to end it. The Democrats should not fear President Bush’s efforts to transfer ownership of this debacle. They should not fear so acutely for their tenuous majority, unless they insist on continuing such meek efforts at change.
If the Republicans wish to be obstructionists, then make them look like the roadblocks to peace that they are. The only way people listen to a majority party that can’t get anything done, is when there is someone else to blame. And, who knows what could happen if Republican senators were forced to hold up the nation’s business in order to pursue and defend a failing war policy. Maybe the pressure would mount, and they would be either forced to relent, or join in crafting compromise legislation that would start us down the road to ending this unending war.