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Optimism About Ending The Iraq War

[ Posted Friday, May 25th, 2007 – 04:23 UTC ]

Amidst the weeping and wailing and the chest-beating and garment-rending which is currently emanating from the anti-war crowd, I would like to interject some optimism about ending the war in Iraq.

It is cautious optimism, to be sure... but optimism nonetheless.

Now, I do not make light of the fact that Congress just voted to give Bush a few more months' funding for the war, and that during that time period hundreds of U.S. soldiers (and thousands of Iraqis, no doubt) will die. That is a tragedy which cannot be made light of in any way, shape or form. But this tragedy should be laid squarely at the feet of President Bush, and (to a lesser extent) Republicans in Congress. Yes, the Democrats acquiesced in the end, too... but make no mistake about it, this is Bush's fault -- just as the entire war has been, all along.

But I remain optimistic that, during the next round of funding (which will begin debate in Congress as early as July), things will be different. And the difference will be a widening split within congressional Republican ranks. Which will make all the difference.


The good and the bad of where we stand today

To begin with, we must take honest stock of where we are today. Yes, Congress passed a bill to fund the war for a few more months. That's obviously bad, but not entirely unexpected.

Back in January, I predicted this exact outcome. Here's what I had to say back then:

This isn't going to make me any friends on the left, but it must be said.

It takes a lot of time for Congress to end a war, even an unpopular one.
. . .
While there are strident voices on the left crying for immediate troop withdrawal, they need to realize that this is going to be a long, hard slog. I say this not to dampen their enthusiasm, or in any attempt to convince people to "tone it down." Far from it. More power to the vocal anti-war folks! Their voices are a key ingredient in how the war will end. I merely counsel patience and stamina, because it's going to take a while to build consensus in Washington.
. . .
For the realists out there, I'd like to outline how I think Congress will end the war. There will be four stages to this exit strategy. The first of these has already begun, with dueling concurrent resolutions to condemn Bush's escalation of troops, which are already making their way through the Senate. The second stage will come when the Pentagon runs out of this year's money for Iraq. The third stage will come when next year's budget for the war gets passed. The fourth stage is when the soldiers finally come home.
. . .
[About the second stage described above, which is where we are today:]
...Congress is just not going to cut off all funding at this point. Democrats will be so terrified of the "you aren't supporting the troops in the field" mantra from the right, that they will vote more money for Iraq. One way or another, Bush will get some more money, albeit with lots of strings attached.
. . .
More Iraq war money approved will send the anti-war folks into apoplexy, it should be noted. This is good, as they will need to keep the pressure up on the issue all spring and summer long. Marches, rallies, petitions, TV appearances, anything they can muster. Keep Congress' feet to the fire! Show the growing public support for withdrawal in every way you can.

So where are we, today? Let's examine the good points and the bad about how the political process has played out so far.

Back in January, the tally of hard anti-war Democrats in the House was estimated to be around 70. Recently, though, 171 House members and 29 senators voted for a straight-up "get out now" bill, which shows that the anti-war wing is gaining strength. That's a good thing.

Unfortunately, only 142 House representatives voted against yesterday's bill, and only 14 in the Senate voted likewise. That shows a certain softness to the anti-war caucus. That's a bad thing.

Overall, though, this group is gaining in strength, and will continue to do so (in my opinion). And that's a really good thing, because it's moving in the right direction.

The final bill didn't contain Jack Murtha's troop readiness language, which is a very bad thing, and which disappointed me personally. While I knew the Democrats were going to eventually cave on the timetable, I was extremely discouraged to see that they didn't fight harder for Murtha's language.

And completely out of left field, Democrats snuck in the minimum wage increase into the final bill. I certainly didn't see that one coming, but it is indeed a very good thing. Democrats need to get some of their prime issues actually passed through Congress and onto Bush's desk, or else the media will begin running endless "Democrats aren't doing anything" stories. But while giving the hardest-working Americans two more dollars an hour is great news, it is ultimately irrelevant to the subject at hand.

The best news that comes from the current situation is that Bush and the GOP now absolutely own the war issue. Because they're all "doubling down" on their "surge" strategy; when it eventually fails, they will not be able to blame the Democrats. Oh, sure, they'll try to... but my guess is that it just won't wash with the public at large.

Overall, I did get a few details wrong, but I still I stand by my predictions from January. Although many disagreed with me at the time; I have always tried to see things as they realistically are, and not the way I wished the world (and Washington) worked.


We don't have the votes

Which brings me to an unpleasant task: refuting the current emotional arguments being made by the anti-war crowd. Believe me, I share the same goals they do of ending the war as soon as possible, but I also see it as my duty to correct some misconceptions.

There are three main arguments being made about why what the Democrats did this week was wrong, and why they should be held accountable. All three of these arguments can be answered with one simple statement: We don't have the votes.


Argument number one: The voters elected a Democratic majority last November so that they would end the war. So end it already!

Refutation: We do not have a parliamentary system. A simple majority does not equate to: "We own Congress." We cannot override a Bush veto (or, for that matter, successfully impeach anybody) without the solid support of two-thirds of both houses of Congress. We just do not have those votes.


Argument number two: Instead of caving, the Democrats should have sent the same bill (the one with timetables that Bush vetoed) back to him again and again and again (dammit!), and not send him anything else.

Refutation: The bill that Bush vetoed got to his desk for one reason and one reason only: he actually wanted to veto such a measure. Senate Republicans did not block the bill with the threat of a filibuster (cloture vote), because the White House told them to let it go through. Senate Republicans could have easily blocked it, though -- the bill passed with less than 60 votes, remember. But if Democrats tried to grandstand by sending the same bill back over and over again, Senate Republicans wouldn't even let it get to the floor. We. Do. Not. Have. The. Votes.


Argument number three: Don't pass anything. Bush had his chance, he vetoed it, so stop all the funding by just refusing to pass anything. By default, the war runs out of money, and the troops come home. Bush can't even veto it, because it doesn't reach his desk -- he can't veto something that doesn't exist.

Refutation: Cutting off all funds without providing a detailed (and funded) plan for withdrawal would be an irresponsible disaster. Remember the government shutdown under Clinton vs. Gingrich? National Parks and all other federal sites didn't have to "withdraw" -- they just went out and locked the gates, and didn't let anyone in. This would not be possible with 150,000-plus soldiers in Iraq. If the money ran out, they would be stranded. Responsible people know this, and that is why Democrats passed a bill to continue the funding. Bush painted them into a corner, and they knew it. While the stridently anti-war voices insist everyone would applaud such a cutoff of funds, the polls just do not back them up. A huge majority of the American public wants the war to end, true -- but only a small percentage of them want it to end tomorrow. The "middle of the road" on the issue (which most people support) is a planned, phased withdrawal over six months or a year. On this one, we don't just not have the votes, but -- more importantly -- we don't even have public opinion behind such an idea.


A summer of protest

I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singin', "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't, we're gonna blow a 50-amp fuse."

-- The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"


John Edwards has been calling for protests this weekend, during Memorial Day celebrations. His "Support the troops, end the war" campaign is trying to use the holiday to raise people's awareness on the issue.

Now, it's debatable whether this is a good tactic or not. It seems calculated to offend some people who might wind up agreeing with the cause, so it should be seen as a risky idea. But I have to admit the timing of it is absolutely perfect; seeing as how Congress waited until now to give Bush more money for his war.

But regardless of whether you choose to eat hot dogs and drink beer at the beach this weekend or decide to demonstrate against the war, the voice of the people needs to be heard this summer. Politicians (especially those Republicans in districts with slim majorities) need to be reminded over and over again that if there are 150,000 troops in Iraq on election day next year, they are going to be voted out of office.

I don't know what ANSWER and the other major anti-war organizational groups are planning for this summer, but I sincerely hope they're planning something. Several somethings, as a matter of fact. Pressure needs to be applied in a very public and media-savvy way; to unequivocally remind the mainstream media that the anti-war position is not just the mainstream position now, but the position of an overwhelming majority of the country.

It's admittedly a bumpersticker slogan, but it will ring true this summer if enough bodies get out in the streets and tell the politicians how they feel: "If the people lead, then the leaders will follow."



September, I remember...
A love once new has now grown old.

-- Simon and Garfunkel, "April, Come She Will"


My final prediction from my January article:

So while a few Republicans are jumping ship now on legally meaningless concurrent resolutions, by summertime it will be a full-scale rout. Republicans will have the time and distance from Bush to say, "Well, we tried the surge, but it obviously didn't work. It's time to bring the troops home." Some of them are already saying this publicly in one way or another: "If the surge isn't working by summer or fall, I won't support it any more." As time goes by this summer, more and more of them will abandon Bush, publicly.

It's impossible to tell from this distance what form this will take, but at this point, Republicans in Congress are going to have had enough -- and they're going to tell Bush in no uncertain terms to "declare victory" and start bringing troops home. And to bring enough of them home by election day that they have a prayer of keeping their jobs.

Sooner or later, a delegation of congressional Republicans is going to knock on the White House's door, and tell Bush that "it's over."

Now, there's already some doom and gloom appearing over this issue. Some are saying that "nothing will be different in September," but I beg to differ. This is where the optimism comes into play. This is where the love affair between the GOP in Congress and President Bush will not just have "grown old," but be completely over.

Glenn Greenwald, a respected lefty blogger for, articulates the pessimistic view of what will happen this autumn better than anyone else I've read. But I just don't buy it -- for two reasons. The first is that it doesn't take into account the growing panic among Republicans in Congress over the Iraq mess. The second is that it doesn't take into account the force majeure that could come out of the Iraqi parliament.

In September, General Petraeus will issue a report to Congress, and the public, about how the surge is working. Best case (for the White House) is going to be: "We're making some progress, we've had some setbacks, but we think it's a good idea to continue and stay the course." Worst case is if Petraeus actually says: "It's not working, we need to try something else;" but that should be seen as a remote possibility, knowing how loathe generals are to admit failure.

This is the point at which the Republicans' solidarity on the issue will fracture. They will have heard all summer long (from their Republican constituents, mind you) that it's time to get out of Iraq -- and they will have the political cover they need ("The surge isn't working out") to switch their votes and start voting against the war. The only question in my mind is whether enough of them will face up to reality to override a veto. We need a total of 290 in the House, and 67 in the Senate, remember.

I think we'll get that many in the House, but the Senate is going to be close (remember, not all of them are up for election next year).

Bush even trotted out a plausible "Plan B" scenario in his press conference yesterday, although most of the mainstream press missed it. He flatly stated that if the Iraqi government asked us to leave, we would indeed leave. He contradicted this elsewhere in the press conference by asserting that pulling out prematurely (in his opinion) would mean: "Al Qaeda would follow us over here;" and he made no attempt to reconcile these two diametrically-opposed positions (not that the reporters present asked him about this apparent doublethink, of course).

I could see Bush, after being told flatly by Republican congressfolks that it was time to pull out, picking up the phone and telling Maliki that it was time for the Iraqi government to ask us to leave. This would give enormous political cover for Bush and the Republicans, and would provide a convenient scapegoat in case the pullout created a bigger disaster: "Hey, they told us to leave, what were we supposed to do?"

But one way or another, in the September/October timeframe, I foresee the end of the Iraq war being written into law by Congress. And that's a real and honest reason for optimism now. We may be at the lowest ebb of the process -- emotionally -- for the anti-war cause right now. But things are going to be looking up, very soon now.


[Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.]


4 Comments on “Optimism About Ending The Iraq War”

  1. [1] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    I've wanted to wait a bit before tackling this post as there is so much to it.

    1) Whether it is Bush's fault for starting the war and the Republicans fault for giving unending support, the failure to stand up and fight lies squarely at the feet of the Democratic Party and those individuals who caved.

    2) I grant that you foresaw this, but, that in and of itself isn't a good thing. If you remember our discussion about the leaked Hadley memo, I predicted that it would drive Maliki's credibility into the dirt. As you can read here in this After-action report it states, "The Maliki government has little credibility among the Shia populations from which it emerged. It is despised by the Sunni as a Persian surrogate. It is believed untrustworthy and incompetent by the Kurds." So, I too have predicted the outcome of an event. That didn't mean it was a good outcome.

    3) The arguments. Let me rebut your rebuttals:

    - The Democrats did not need a veto-proof majority to end the war. It is immaterial.

    - Whether or not the same bill (with timelines) would have gotten out of Congress, much less been vetoed, is immaterial.

    - This leaves us with the last argument: letting the funding run out. You state this would be bad and cite Gingrich. I disagree. Shutting down a government because of spending disagreements is different then shutting down a war that is now wildly unpopular and that the majority of Americans now want ended.

    The majority of Americans didn't want CONGRESS to defund the war. But, forcing the President to defund his own war by veto isn't the same as Congress VOTING to defund the war. I believe that the American public understands this difference.

    The problem here is that the "middle of the road" route of a planned, phased withdrawal is not viable. Bush and Republicans want all or nothing. That means the Democrat's could do one of the two things; give them all, or, nothing.

    That is the game Bush pushed and the correct answer would have been to send the same bill (with timelines) until Bush realized the Democrat's wouldn't cave in. He would then have been forced to defund his own war or accept the terms. Period.

    Citing political futures, the media, or any other peripheral issue is immaterial to the issue at hand; our soldiers are dying in a war that the majority of America now wants out of.

    This has now driven some Dem supporters from the Democratic Party and given Independents no real reason to back the Democrat's in another election. THAT was political suicide.

    Dem's are now whining about how people aren't supporting the Party, but why should they be supported? Dem's are whining how the next President might very well install another Supreme Court justice or 2, and if it is a Republican, then it will be worse. So what? If that happens, the Democrat's only have themselves to thank for it. Some Dem's are now whining about how voting for a 3rd Party candidate will hand the White House and Congress back to the Republicans. So what? Again, who is to thank for that except the Democratic Congressmen who were too spineless to fight for the will of the people and our soldiers.

    The Democratic Party doesn't have the media outlets they cry. So, BUY THEM, just as Republicans did. The Democratic Party doesn't have the rabid supporters the Republicans have they cry. So, give them a reason TO be rabid supporters!

    It is the battered-wife syndrome; always someone else's fault, always some excuse, always no way out. I know, I was a cop, I dealt with it; heard it. The Democrat's have it in spades.

    So, the Democrat's send the same bill back, Bush vetoes it or it doesn't even get out of committee, the end result is the same; funding ends. Bush either brings the troops home or takes them hostage without the funding to back them. Who do you think the American people will view at fault if Bush refuses to bring the troops home after Generals have spoken out so forcibly on the war itself, and the resulting rebellion in the military would be as unprecedented at Bush's refusal to remove the troops as the speaking out itself? So, in '08, the Democrat's might lose some votes, but, the war would have ended.

    The whole point is; what MIGHT happen as to what WOULD happen.

    We KNOW that the military is at the point of rebellion. That is fact. I counted 14 Generals who spoke out to include the Joint Chiefs themselves. Bush tries to strand the military in Iraq without funding, the rebellion would be open and ugly, but it would happen.

    Would it be "political suicide" for the Dem's in '08? No more then what they just did.

  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michael -

    (2) -- You're right. It doesn't give me any joy to be right about the situation. I never thought that January column would have as much "legs" as it has proven to. For an example of how I get things wrong, see my post on helicopter downings -- I feared it would escalate horribly, which hasn't happened. That's when it's a good thing I was wrong....

    (3) -- Go to my HuffPost version of this article, and read my comments to find a link to Mahablog's article on the subject. He posits, and I somewhat agree, that if the money was cut off, Bush would just raid other funds to get the money because he's so stubborn. I don't know enough about federal budgeting to know how plausible this really would be, but it's a depressing possibility. Although I do agree with you that the public probably would easily see through the spin, and hold Bush responsible.

    I think that, much like "only Nixon could go to China," that only Bush can get us out of this mess, and that towards the end of the summer he'll redefine "victory" in such a way that he can start drawing down troops. This way, he sees himself (and the surge) as vindicated, and he can declare victory and get the heck out of Dodge.

    I'm heartened to hear more and more conservative Republicans saying that come September they're going to desert Bush's war. It remains to be seen whether enough of them do, but facing re-election does wonderful things sometimes....


  3. [3] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    Look at this link...

    Remember our email conversations about the Hadley memo? I wrote to you 13/3/06:

    "When I read the Hadley memo online, I hadn't even found the Dreyfuss article. I found that later. But, as you mention in your email, almost every suggested course of action listed in the Hadley memo was either; a) not politically or militarily viable, or b) pure political suicide for Maliki. This led me to the conclusion that there was no way this memo could be an actual, viable, assessment. You see, professionals such as Mr. Hadley would not be *this* far off the mark. So, I naturally hit "investigator" mode trying to piece together viable scenario's. The only one that made sense was the leaked memo's purpose had to be deliberate with the sole intention of discrediting Maliki as a leader. Of course, that led me to the next question; why? It couldn't be that they just wanted to replace him, because nobody in Iraq who doesn't have "street cred" with the Iraqi citizens would fare any better, at least, not in the Iraqi government as it currently exists. Sherlock Holmes would say to Watson; "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" That leaves two possibilities; a) either they (Bush and Cheney) have a viable replacement with street cred, or b) they are trying to foment enough distrust that the Iraqi Parliament dissolves in chaos. So, of course, I went back and reread the words written in Mr. Hadley's memo. Not only were the suggestions not viable, but the implication in the memo is that a coup is coming, one way or another, and when Maliki is removed, as he surely will be now, there will be enough distrust between the factions that nobody will trust the other. This left me with the only solution that Bush wants the Shi'a, Sunni's and Kurds to break apart which will dissolve the Unity Government. With the current violence in Iraq, once the government dissolves, the new "leadership" will have little choice, and more then enough justification, to declare a state of emergency and martial law."

    The distrust in the government is already there now... and now even Maliki is hinting that a coup may be forming against him.

    It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, no?

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    You are entirely right. There are many ways the Maliki government could fall, as they appear to be getting weaker with time, not stronger.

    I don't think the Bush folks have a replacement lined up -- although at one time I would have ascribed such a Machiavellian plot to them (especially Cheney), now I fear that they're just too incompetent to effectively put something like that together. But we shall see. Maybe we haven't heard the last of Chalabi, who knows?

    And I also, in my darker moments, fear you're right about what would happen after the chaos of the Maliki government falling. What the country needs, basically, is a neo-Saddam. Some strongarm type that could keep order and still keep the oil flowing might begin to appear to be a "best case" answer to the incompetents who got us into this mess. Call it "Saddam-lite" as we'd want him to be friendly to the US (of course) and allow the oil companies access.

    In any case, you're right about it being interesting to see how it plays out. I just hope it won't be "interesting" in the context of the Oriental curse: "May you live in interesting times."


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