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Iraq, Democrats and the Art of the Possible

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(From Huffington Post)  It is often said that politics is the art of the possible. Yet, the current torrent of rage over last week's compromise on Iraq funding ironically blames the Democrats for seizing the possible at the expense of the impossible in a classic example of making the perfect the enemy of the good. In their fury, anti-war critics mistakenly equate a tactical retreat with total capitulation and fail to recognize the substantial progress Democrats have made in their five months in power.

The starting point for any assessment of this compromise should be June 22, 2006 when the Senate rejected a resolution on troop withdrawal in what was the only vote on Iraq policy in either house that year. In fact, except for attacking Democrats for wanting to "cut and run," the Republican Congress was essentially silent on Iraq last year. In contrast, there have been at least the 14 votes on Iraq (including the passage and subsequent veto of the Iraq Accountability Act setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq) during the first five months of the Democratic Congress. With each vote, Congressional Republicans are forced to choose between defending the President and their own political viability; which may explain why they have abandoned their "stay the course" rhetoric and are now marching to the White House warning the President that time is running out.

As Sun Tzu explains in the Art of War, to achieve victory a general must choose his battles carefully. "One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant." While they may have public opinion on their side in seeking a timetable, the reality is that, since they are 68 votes shy of a veto-proof majority in the House and 15 votes in the Senate, the Democrats simply lack the ability to impose a timetable for withdrawal at this time.

Although the compromise's lack of a timetable may be a tactical retreat, it is far from a blank check for the President as critics contend since, as Senate Majority Leader Reid noted, it begins "the process of holding this President and the Iraqis accountable." Specifically, in exchange for an additional four months of funding for Iraq operations the compromise requires the President to report on 18 separate benchmarks for the Iraqi government and redeploy U.S. troops should the Iraqi government conclude our presence is no longer desired, prohibits torture of detainees, and contains substantial increases in funding for Katrina relief and homeland security plus the first increase in the minimum wage in ten years.

By requiring the Bush administration to report on progress on key benchmarks, Democrats have framed the debate for the next round of Iraq funding in September. Coincidentally, this is about the time when both General Petraeus indicated that the surge's effectiveness could be assessed and leading Republicans have set as a deadline for improvement in Iraq before seeking a "Plan B." Absent some dramatic reversal of conditions in Iraq, Democrats will be in a much stronger position to impose conditions for withdrawal at that time since Republican defections will be certain to increase as the debate shifts to "Plan B".

What supporters of the compromise and their critics each fail to recognize is the extent to which each side is right. Anti-war critics must remember that by denouncing Democrats as "cowards" or even "evil," they are falling victim to the same myopia which bought into Ralph Nader's claim in 2000 that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush that helped "elect" Bush in the first place. In this case, I seriously doubt that the 7.3 million working Americans who will now have an additional $4,368 per year to spend on necessities view their benefactors as either "cowards" or "evil."

In addition, if anti-war critics are to be relevant in this debate they must deal in the realm of the possible and recognize what Edmund Burke noted over two centuries ago - "[a]ll government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter." While some anti-war critics have responded to the compromise by embracing Rep. Kucinich as a moral giant amongst Democratic dwarves, the fact is that even if every Democrat followed Kucinich's lead they would still lack the votes to impose a timetable for withdrawal. Anti-war critics must recognize that it is patience and compromise, not ideological purity, which ultimately will win the additional votes needed to extricate our troops from this disaster.

At the same time, Democrats must recognize the extent to which they are still judged for their pusillanimous record over the past six years, as a search of leading newspapers yields 94 articles over the past three years in which "Democrats" and "backbone" were used in the same sentence. With approximately two-thirds of Americans supporting linking Iraq funding to meeting certain benchmarks, anti-war critics are justified in expecting bold action from the Democrats -- particularly against a President with such dismal approval ratings. While courage and leadership alone will not make the impossible suddenly possible, the fact remains that the impossible can never be achieved without it.

Post Script:  As to whether or not the Democrats should simply have not provided any funding at all (which does not require a veto proof majority), I note the following excerpt from David Yespen's Des Moines Register column entitled "Biden's Vote for War Funding a Profile in Courage":

Biden said during a meeting with Des Moines Register reporters and editors on Tuesday that he voted for the funding bill largely because it contained funding for new armored vehicles that will better resist roadside bombs. He said 70 percent of U.S. deaths and casualties are caused by these explosive devices, and the new vehicles could reduce that by two-thirds.  "I find it absolutely unconscionable that I would delay, to make a point, a week to two to a month, the construction of these vehicles," he said.  Biden said, "I knew the right political move. I didn't have any doubt about the right political vote, but there are some things worth losing elections over, for gosh sakes. I could not remotely, in good conscience," vote to delay production of the vehicles.

 

http://www.bennetkelley.com

Bennet Kelley is an award winning columnist, a political commentator, radio host and the former Co-Founder and National Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee's Saxophone Club (its young professional fund raising and outreach arm during the (more...)
 

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This is a sad apologia for an almost total rout of... by Kuzminski on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 7:23:21 AM
I think that the Dems are getting much more crap f... by John R Moffett on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 8:40:20 AM
"Tactical retreat"? Is that what we vote... by Mr M on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 8:44:57 AM
Mr. Biden, and others of like mind, to get their a... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 9:02:07 AM
I would encourage everyone who is mad... no incens... by John R Moffett on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 9:23:44 AM
It would seem I would give political-junkies that ... by Mr M on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 11:58:24 AM
Joe Biden has been to Iraq at least 7 times during... by Bennet Kelley on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 11:28:41 AM
Reasoned until you used the boxing analogy. And on... by Mr M on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 2:17:53 PM
  Americans are trapped in a corrupt pol... by rabblerowzer on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 9:19:03 AM
Indeed the one reason we're not seeing the pro... by Mr M on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 11:45:16 AM
before Republicans hit the canvas." I certai... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 11:59:57 AM
. . . cutting through the crap, Daniel. With this ... by Russ Wellen on Sunday, Jun 3, 2007 at 2:32:08 AM
but as Moffett pointed out lack of courage is not ... by HL Bumpkin on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 12:03:24 PM
for the one party system we currently have, that o... by Better World Order on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 12:08:37 PM
the author/shill said that Nader helped Bush win; ... by Better World Order on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 12:13:16 PM
No lie -- up to and including "War is Peace" -- is... by Richard Mynick on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 1:26:59 PM
John Moffett asks why peace activists aren't o... by my2cents on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 1:53:26 PM
But waiting for the next election IS the lazy thin... by John R Moffett on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 2:45:03 PM
Not to be naive, in a prefect world, shouldn't... by Mr M on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 2:49:58 PM
 Long live war, warmongers, their defenders a... by Tony Forest on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 1:57:34 PM
The truth is that a significant majority are again... by Blue Pilgrim on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 1:58:45 PM
And fiber -- lots of fiber. But fascism is constip... by Blue Pilgrim on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 2:30:06 PM
Go to VFCN Iraq and Afghanistan Supplemental ... by Blue Pilgrim on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 2:27:47 PM
Call Congress Monday, and let them know that you a... by John R Moffett on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 2:50:29 PM
You say that the dems didn't have the votes to... by Rob Kall on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 3:38:01 PM
I, the local group, other groups -- we've demo... by Blue Pilgrim on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 3:49:39 PM
Everytime I get my hopes up that America is FINALL... by W. Christopher Epler (Bill) on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 4:49:36 PM
There needs to be a political realignment and the ... by Ed Encho on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 6:11:08 PM
URGENT! URGENT! URGENT!I need some answers, before... by LYNNE KRINGLER on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 6:19:29 PM
Welcome aboard ! Please do take a seat. Sorry, wou... by Tony Forest on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 7:15:51 PM
OK, Everyone is mad, now what are you going to do?... by John R Moffett on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 7:15:54 PM
What esle ? He can read, can he not ?In memory of ... by Tony Forest on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 7:20:06 PM
I know if I were an elected representative, I woul... by John Howes on Saturday, Jun 2, 2007 at 7:54:24 PM
Well put BT your right the clean election laws are... by Keith Hupp on Sunday, Jun 3, 2007 at 12:20:31 AM
Thank you for your spirited comments.  To rec... by Bennet Kelley on Sunday, Jun 3, 2007 at 3:27:58 AM
Now, don’t be getting all bent out of shape ... by rabblerowzer on Sunday, Jun 3, 2007 at 12:41:18 PM
Mr. Kelley,If Congress wanted to restrict spending... by Bob Fireovid on Sunday, Jun 3, 2007 at 8:56:16 AM
"Blame the Democrats for Everything" cro... by Steven Leser on Sunday, Jun 3, 2007 at 1:16:26 PM
I would most willingly agree with the reasons bei... by syed mahdi on Sunday, Jun 3, 2007 at 3:08:29 PM