Kabuki Theatre: The Nonbinding Surge Resolutions

After a day filled with hot air, with Democrats vehemently crying for up and down votes on nonbinding resolutions to oppose the Bush Iraq Surge, and the GOP desperately trying to avoid going on the record in support of the Bush surge, the very smart columnist E J Dionne learns some correct lessons and some incorrect ones. The correct ones:

In other words: Even if a substantial majority of Congress that includes many Republicans demonstrates a lack of confidence in the Bush-Cheney surge, the administration will feel free to ignore the other elected branch of our government -- and the more recently elected branch (remember November, anyone?) at that.

And the GOP wants avoid getting shackled with Iraq in 2008. This is clear and that seems obvious to me. But what EJ is missing is that this Kabuki will mean nothing in November 2008. But, to be fair, EJ sees this as building up for a reversal of Iraq policy:

The impatience of the administration's critics is entirely understandable. But it would be a shame if impatience got in the way of a sensible long-term strategy to bring America's engagement in this war to as decent an end as possible as quickly as possible -- even if not as quickly as they'd like. The anti-surge resolution is a necessary first step, which is why those who are against a genuine change in our Iraq policy are fighting so hard to stop it.

Dionne is incorrect here. This does NOT lead to a sensible long term strategy to end the war. It is NOT a first step towards that. Russ Feingold is right:

This is not a time to finesse the situation. This is not a time for a slow walk. This almost reminds me a little bit of the way Democrats behaved in October 2002, which was trying to play it safe, trying to use words such as 'well, we're going to vote for this resolution, but what it really means is that the president should go to the UN. That stuff doesn’t fly. And this kind of attempt to go a little bit of the way just to show you're on the other side of the president doesn’t fly either.

But what of the politics? Won't the GOP accuse the Dems of surrendering? Of cutting and running? Feingold is right here too:

They want to be immune from criticism from the White House. That's not how you win, by being afraid of the criticism. You stand up to the criticism and you say 'they were wrong. They took us in there on a fraudulent basis, they’ve screwed this up, they've screwed up the war against terrorism, they’ve weakened out military. We are going to take a completely different approach.'

As for cutting and running, Karl Rove was going to hang that around the Dems' necks in the 2006 elections:

These are the stakes: if Rove can successfully con Democrats into ignoring Iraq and reciting their laundry list of other priorities, Republicans win. It's shameful that the minimum wage hasn't been raised in nine years and that thousands of ailing Americans will ultimately die because of Bush's position on stem-cell research. But those issues won't get the Congress back for Democrats. Iraq can.

You would think it would be the GOP running away from the war. Instead, in gamblers' parlance, Republicans "doubled down" on Iraq. After the good news about Zarqawi's death, they bet that by uniting behind Bush, they would shift the blame to the squabbling Democrats, even though the Democrats have no power at all to change—or even affect—policy on the ground. Rove's notion is that strong and wrong beats meek and weak.

It almost worked. It looked recently as if Democrats were so fearful of being cast as war weenies that they would change the subject. . . . But then, some Senate Democrats got smart for a change. . . . So now 80 percent of Senate Democrats are united behind something called the "Levin-Reed Amendment." The details of it (begin withdrawal without a firm timetable for getting out completely; diplomacy with the Sunnis; purging the Iraqi military and police of bad guys) are less important than that they finally came up with something. . . . Sen. Joe Biden's riposte to the GOP's symbolic roll-call votes— "The Republicans are now totally united in a failed policy"— is a start. This isn't rocket science. Unless things improve dramatically on the ground in Iraq . . . If you believe the Iraq war is a success, vote Republican. If you believe it is a failure, vote Democratic.

And the Democrats pummelled the Republicans. And nothing has changed politically. Democrats must stay firmly in favor of withdrawal. By defunding the Iraq War.

It is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.

< Grand Juror in Duke Case Expresses Second Thoughts | Libby's Theory of Defense >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    um, jarober (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by cpinva on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 04:57:02 PM EST
    are you suggesting that iraq is not currently a "failed" state? i ask because it would appear, to any reasonable person, to be a completely dysfunctional state, in the commonally accepted definition of the term. just wondering.

    i'm also curious as to what constitutes "as decent an end"? would that be "only" another 500 or 1,000 dead U.S. troops? maybe another 5,000 horribly wounded? perhaps another 20 or 30k dead iraqis?

    this is deja vu all over again, just lacking jungles and the viet cong: a war with no discernable strategy, and insufficient troops and material to do what's really needed. instead, we're piece-mealing our people in there, and hoping they don't get killed/wounded, before we can figure a way to get them out again.

    you think that's fair to the troops?

    Bad Kabuki (none / 0) (#1)
    by squeaky on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 12:32:08 PM EST
    It seems that the Senatorial tip toe dance is less about the first step in a process of the long term goal of total withdrawl than saving their own fat a$$es. Not the time for that kind of cowardice when our troops are dying and our treasure is going into the pockets of war criminals.

    Nonbinding resolutions????, talk about destroying our troops morale. This is an insult to the troops and the American people.

    Feingold is one of the few members who have their priorities straight. The rest are thinking about their ever shortening political careers.

    You don't get it (none / 0) (#2)
    by jarober on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 04:42:45 PM EST
    For the Democrats, this is all about pandering to the base without taking any actual action.  What's the political upside of defunding the war?  Absolutely zero - it's clear that such an action would create a failed state (like Afghanistan was, pre-p/11 - only with oil) - and the failure would get hung on Democrats.

    It really wouldn't matter what you said about the decision to go in back in 2003 - the fact is, defunding would leads to worse chaoas than we have now, and Democrats would get blamed for that.  Reid is a tool, but he's not entirely stupid - he understands that.  Which is why he won't allow a floor vote on defunding.

    Get used to 2 years of unproductive bickering, while the administration continues to run the war.  That's what you'll see, whether you like it or not. Your party leaders want to close their eyes and wish the whole thing away.

    That will be the spin (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by squeaky on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 05:08:13 PM EST
    What's the political upside of defunding the war?  Absolutely zero - it's clear that such an action would create a failed state
    Nonsense. This is a Republican war from start to finish. The dems will score big by bringing home the troops and ending the drain of our treasure.

    A failed state? I do not think most Americans care and if they do they care less than they do about their own troops and tax dollars spent.

    The spin from wingnuttia will try to blame the dems but those voices have lost all credibilty.

    Face it jarober the Republican machine is broken.


    Failed State... (none / 0) (#4)
    by jarober on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 05:04:32 PM EST
    Iraq is not currently a failed state that presents a threat to the US - as opposed to Afghanistan pre-9/11 (or Somalia, before Ethiopia and Kenya, with some help from us, got rid of the ICU).

    Iraq is not a well functioning state, but it is not a threat to the US.  If we pull out, the power vacuum will be filled by Iran, Syria, and the Saudis (possibly the Turks in the north).  It's not at all clear who would come out on top of that, or how soon.  In our absence, the chaos could easily lead to the kind of breeding ground that Afghanistan was in the late 90's (and up until the invasion).

    The question you want to ask isn't "should we have gone in" - that's past.  It's "what would happen if we left abruptly".

    That (none / 0) (#6)
    by Edger on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 05:12:03 PM EST
    "what would happen if we left abruptly"

    would be up to the people who created the mess by invading in the first place, and the people who supported the people who created the mess, if they had any sense of responsibility, now wouldn't it.

    What are you now going to suggest you do about it jarober? Or do you have any suggestions? Even one? Besides sending more targets over there to die for your mistake, or besides trying to pawn off the responsibility for the massive f*ck up on the people who opposed you doing it in the first place?


    And besides trying to pawn off (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Edger on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 05:14:03 PM EST
    that responsibility by insinuating that anyone has even remotely suggested "leaving abruptly"?

    Actually (none / 0) (#8)
    by Edger on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 05:29:07 PM EST
    I take that back, partially. There is one person who has suggested "leaving abruptly" - a self described conservative hawk:

    To Help Iraq, Let It Fend for Itself
    EDWARD N. LUTTWAK, February 6, 2007, NYT

    Why are you so down on Bush supporters anyway, jarober?


    Kool Aid? (none / 0) (#11)
    by squeaky on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 06:02:39 PM EST
    Not a failed state???? When only 60 out of the 260 or so reps show up at parlament, because it is not safe for them to even be in Iraq? Where they have to have 30 bodyguards just to walk the streets? When all of the middle class aka professionals have left the country and now the poor are fleeing at the rate of 50,000/ month.  

    Civil war, death squads, the list goes on.


    Idjits, they're all idjits (none / 0) (#14)
    by Sailor on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 07:14:08 PM EST
    Iraq is not currently a failed state that presents a threat to the US

    Wrong button, sorry folks (none / 0) (#15)
    by Sailor on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 07:14:58 PM EST
    Iraq is not currently a failed state that presents a threat to the US

    Not an answer... (none / 0) (#9)
    by jarober on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 05:36:04 PM EST

    That rant probably made you feel better, but it's not an answer.  Here's something I wrote in email earlier today:

    In 1991, I was in favor of the gulf war, and in 2003, I was in favor of the Iraq war.  Looking back in hindsight, I think the following now:

    -- The best option would have been to not go in at all in 1991 (i.e., which despot pumps the oil doesn't matter that much - they have to sell it regardless)

    -- Once we did go in, we ended up in a "you broke it, you bought it" scenario.

    Here's what I mean by that.  If we pulled out of Iraq abruptly, it would become a bigger problem than it is now, and likely become the kind of failed state playground that Afghanistan was pre-9/11, and that Somalia was becoming before Ethiopia went in.  That kind of situation is not a good one for the US, even if you presumed that we would not be looking at terror attacks (and I wouldn't make such a presumption - Spain is still uncovering ongoing plots years after having pulled out).  

    Why not?  Well, even if we cut our own dependence on oil from that region (not that hard to do, if we were willing to be more aggressive about drilling in the Western Hemisphere), our trading partners would still be dependent, and any chaos in that region would impact prices worldwide - oil from Mexico would cost the same as oil from Kuwait.  If the economies of Europe and China crashed as a result of a regional war in the middle east, then our economy would follow after them.  

    Now, I agree with you that the borders in that region are unstable, and are in desperate need of rearrangement - and that regional war is the only thing that will do so in a way that keeps them stable afterwards.  However - the economic hit we would take from that chaos is something that no politician (of any party) would really be willing to countenance.  Let oil go to $100 a barrel, and I'd guess that public support in favor of any number of bad ideas would start to grow.  

    Which leaves us with where we are now, holding a bad hand in Iraq, and waiting for the Iranians to develop nuclear weapons.  I have to say that I disagree with you on the efficacy of negotiating with the Iranians - as best as I can tell, their government is in the hands of true believing religious fanatics, who believe that generating chaos hastens the arrival of the hidden imam.  Given that, I don't see any point in talking to them - it will end up being as useful as negotiating with Hitler in 1938 (as opposed to Japan in 1938, who could have been dealt with at the table).  

    Which again leaves us with a bad hand.  Probably the best course of action would be to work with the Saudis to keep the price of oil moderate (Iran imports nearly all their gasoline, and pays for that with oil sales), and perhaps justify taking out their handful of gasoline refineries if they continue their forays into Iraq (which does not mean that I think a general war with Iran would be useful - it wouldn't be).  That kind of pressure on Iran might bring about a friendlier regime sooner rather than later, at lower cost than anything else.

    It's still risky - but I don't see how an abrupt withdrawal helps us at this point.  We are where we are, and - for good or ill - the regimes we are dealing with there will listen to us a whole lot less if we pull out.  The entire culture there is one of shame/honor, and an abrupt withdrawal would not help our negotiating position.

    What I (or anyone else) thought in 1991, or 2003 doesn't matter a lot right now.  That's all in the past, and identifying the flaws in our reasoning is a whole lot easier in hindsight.  The problem is figuring out what to do now, based on what exists on the ground now - not on what we think should have existed on the ground now.  That's what I tried to address in that email I quoted above.

    Good point. (none / 0) (#10)
    by Edger on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 05:39:55 PM EST
    The problem is figuring out what to do now, based on what exists on the ground now - not on what we think should have existed on the ground now.

    But you've avoided my questions.

    What are you now going to suggest you do about it jarober? Or do you have any suggestions? Even one? Besides sending more targets over there to die for your mistake, or besides trying to pawn off the responsibility for the massive f*ck up on the people who opposed you doing it in the first place?


    Failure? (none / 0) (#12)
    by jarober on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 06:21:42 PM EST
    What I suggest now is something fairly simple - we keep doing what we are doing, because - if you read past the blaring headlines - it's working.  Outside the Baghdad region, things in Iraq aren't bad, and the current surge is targeting the problem area.  

    I think we ought to let Petraeus try his ideas out.

    So how many more dead will be enough? (none / 0) (#13)
    by Edger on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 06:48:31 PM EST
    Or are limits and timetables something you just don't do?

    Same old same old has worked so well all along, has it? Why change it now, is that it? Keep on keeping on and maybe you'll get lucky and find a way to set up Iran for an attack while you're there, to justify the whole mis-adventure for you?

    After all, as you say: "Outside the Baghdad region, things in Iraq aren't bad". And if it weren't for the liberally biased media misrepresenting the whole shooting match for you you'd be able to point us to the good life the Iraqis are living with their newfound freedom and democracy, with a couple of good links right?

    Come on jarober. At least be a good self-described conservative warhawk and set up the Iraqis to take the blame for that good life they are living:

    THE sooner President Bush can get his extra troops for a "surge" in Iraq, the sooner he will be able to announce that all American troops are coming home because of the inevitable failure of the Iraqi government to "live up to its side of the bargain."
    For the Iraqi Army and police to disarm the Shiite militias, the prime minister would have to be a veritable Stalin or at least a Saddam Hussein, able to terrorize Iraqi soldiers and policemen into obedience. Mr. Maliki, of course, has no such authority over Iraqi soldiers or police officers; indeed he has little authority over his own 39-person cabinet, whose members mostly represent sectarian parties with militias of their own.

    Actually the situation is even worse than that, because only the Kurdish militias unfailingly obey their political leaders -- one is the president of Iraq no less, Jalal Talabani -- while for the rest, it may be more true to say that Iraqi militias have political leaders to represent their wishes. The largest and most murderous of the Shiite militias, the Mahdi Army, which is invariably described as belonging to the truculent cleric Moktada al-Sadr, is actually divided under a bevy of local commanders, some of whom obey Mr. Sadr some of the time.

    --Edward N. Luttwak, February 6, 2007

    That Ed sure is a funny guy, isn't he jarober? Weird last name though.

    "lutt-wack" is how it's pronounced, I think, no?


    How can the deomcrats possibly complain? (none / 0) (#16)
    by Slado on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 07:16:55 PM EST
    For 4 years the republicans held majorities in both houses and the democrats used every motion and trick in the books to hold up legislation that would have been voted on with a majority and we're supposed to forget about that now because democrats are in control?

    And not only are we supposed to forget that fact but we're supposed to complain about a piece of legislation that doesn't mean anything?   What is wrong with the democrats?   Do they want the war to end or do they simply want the right to complain as the majority?


    You said it (none / 0) (#17)
    by Edger on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 07:28:29 PM EST
    bush uses troops as shield (none / 0) (#18)
    by orionATL on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 08:12:27 PM EST
    from march 2003 on, president  bush has used u.s. troops as a shield against either criticism or political action in opposition to his unnecessary, unproductive, and dangerous-to-american-interests attack on iraq.

    stating this simply and clearly and repeatedly  in public forums is the simplest way to cut thru bush's sophistry and, at the same time, collapse  the current right-wing republican congressional resistance.

    george bush now uses u.s. troops, and has repeatedly used u.s. troops from spring 2003, as shields to protect himself and administration from scrutiny and criticism.

    why can't national leaders (read "democratic senators", journalists and editorialists, and web log sites) point this out


    it is a simple and powerful and effective antidote to bush's claim, made in perpetuity, that any criticism of his or his administration's plans for the iraq invasion are "attacks on" or "failures to support" u.s. troops.

    this claim is transparently self-serving,  transparently false, and  transparently manipulative of ordinary americans' emotions.

    UNNECESSARY (?) REMINDER: american troops are in iraq because president bush ordered them there.

    (and keeps rotating them - national guard and "regular" troops - into and out of iraq, over and over again.)

    are solderers who had been ordered into iraq once (and perhaps again for the second or third time) "not supported" when critics of pres bush and his administration voice "no confidence" in the invasion and he ordered and the incompetent prosecution of war that has followed?

    of course not.

    and we all know that some of those troops will be killed, many more maimed, and many more still emotionally scarred for life.

    (and then there is iraqi life and society - which obviously don't count at all in the president's thinking.)

    pres bush is not protecting american troops he condemns to iraq;

    he is using them in a vain effort to protect his historical reputation (and cover his past bad judgments).

    the president is like a high-stakes gambler on a bad losing streak who cannot accept that he has lost.

    in this case the president keeps borrowing solder's lives to use as chips to try to break even against his losses.

    this is all that needs to be said in the current debate over iraq policy?

    so how come it has not?

    who (plural) is going to repeat it over and over until it has become available for all americans to consider.