In one respect, the WP's lead paragraph of its lead story yesterday was cause for celebration: "President Bush vetoed a $124 billion measure yesterday that would have funded overseas military operations but required him to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as early as July, escalating the most serious confrontation between the White House and Congress over war policy in a generation."
Finally, the stage is set for this rogue White House to be reined in. And it's not the loyal opposition that instigated the confrontation over executive war powers. Any White House that can look upon Iraq's rampant chaos and confusion -- chaos and confusion it blindly and singlehandedly created -- and declare a withdrawal from it a "prescription for chaos and confusion" is a White House that has long since taken psychotic leave of reality and thus forfeited its war-making authority.
In one sentence of his veto announcement alone, the president spotlighted his fog: "Setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments."
That would be the Iraqi people who overwhelmingly want us out; the killers that U.S. Middle East policy is hatching daily in droves; and vague, shifting commitments whose only comprehensibility is their aura of incomprehensibility.
Mr. Bush added, "Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure" -- a statement which, to achieve lucidity, lacked three little words: the end of failure.
So it's celebration time, right?
I have my doubts, and they're serious ones.
True, the speaker continues hanging tough, saying "the president wants a blank check; the Congress is not going to give it to him," and the Senate majority leader says "if the president thinks that by vetoing this bill he will stop us from trying to change the direction of this war, he is mistaken."
But this progressive Congress is provokingly conservative. It lives in fear of right-wing attacks and their electoral consequences. The fear is palpable, depressingly so, and evident in Congress' unwillingness, for example, to forge a universal health care plan, to take on the gun lobby, to reverse in their entirety Bush's reckless, plutocratic tax cuts. When it takes any steps at all, they're baby ones.
So how do you think Democrats will respond to leading electoral indicators like this one? -- "A survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released last week showed that 59 percent of Americans want a withdrawal schedule in the spending bill, although a New York Times-CBS News poll showed that a similar majority wants the war funded even if Bush does not accept timetables."
Mr. Bush owns the winning demagoguery on this one. Democrats know it, and, in what I think is my reasonable opinion, aren't about to buck it. It's too potentially costly. Instead, they'll opt to allow the madness to stretch into 2009 before seriously monkeying with that most sacred of political shibboleths -- "Support our troops."
Celebrate an escalating confrontation? It'll likely be more of a dispiriting compromise.