In addition to being a neocon fantasy, the Iraq war was, of course, a political stunt from the get-go. It was the White House's way to divide the American electorate into warring camps, further divide the antiwar camp into internally warring factions, and thus leave the prowar crowd as the dissent-despising plurality.
From a narrow political point of view, it was a brilliant strategy -- but one inherently and almost immediately botched by the most imbecilic of geopolitical pratfalls in American history: The White House forgot a real, difficult and exceedingly long war might ensue.
Nevertheless the war's political genesis was smart. Sociopathic -- but smart. And since its Machievellian cleverness arose from domestic motivations, perhaps antiwar Democrats should take a cue: Their internal warring fatally inhibits an overseas fix, so quit trying to fix it, and just blame all their failure on the Republicans.
The cop-out recipe would go like this: Send another war-funding bill to the White House, timetables and all, and let the White House veto it again. Then repeat. Then give up, declaring they tried, but the two-front phalanx of the White House and Republican Congressional minority was too powerfully stubborn for reason to prevail.
The odds against any truly honorable resolution are simply too great, and reading the conflicting comments generating those odds, week after anguished week, are too politically painful.
"I don’t know whether there are sufficient options out there," said Barack Obama in an understating mood earlier this week. "I’m concerned about simply putting in advisory benchmarks that the president is free to ignore, without any consequences." Yes, that is concern-inspiring. His option, which proves the need for others? A fresh bill that would "constrain the president," but "might be short of a timetable." That's like setting a "nine-ish" curfew for an irresponsible teenager.
Harry Reid said "the bill that we sent [the president] was a bill that was representative of the wishes of the American people, and we’re going to keep that in mind as we go through these negotiations. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s important." So which is going to play out? Fashioning another bill "representative of the wishes of the American people"? Or just keeping those wishes "in mind"? One of those is a gimme.
Then there's Ben Nelson, who, having recently returned from war-torn Iraq, said that American forces "are literally at the crossroads of the civil war"; that "there is still fighting in the streets of Baghdad"; and that among bickering Iraqi pols, "things have not changed to the good." So what's a poor Congress to do? In Nelson's opinion, a withdrawal deadline isn't it.
Or there's Russ Feingold on the opposite end of the Democratic spectrum. "There is virtually no one in our caucus who does not want to be associated with trying to get us out of this war," said this one senator of honor. "The only thing that is slowing some of them down is the fear that somehow they will be accused of doing something that will put the troops at risk. The desire for political comfort is still overwhelming the best judgment even of some Democrats."
Case in point: Charles Schumer said their internal squabbling "is not as much the problem as how to do something that has some integrity and yet the president still signs"; adding precriptively, in the New York Times' paraphrase, that "Democrats would not fall into the trap of being blamed for cutting off money for the armed forces." Kaboom.
With the proper leadership and a forceful public relations campaign, Democrats could hold out and continue sending timetabled-funding bill after timetabled-funding bill until the president has no choice but to either sign it or watch the troops' revenue lines be severed. But that would also require unified cajones that are unattainably foreign to this cautious band of Congressional brothers.
So their best denouement may be, and perhaps will be, to just give up and blame it all on the Republicans. Dishonorable, yes -- but what better political continuity for the 21st century?