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Memo to Dems: How the Immigration Debate Can End the Iraq War

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One of the major reasons why Democrats have not yet been able to pass legislation slowing down or ending the Iraq War is because they remained within their archetype (aka. the role low-information voters perceive them as reflexively playing). The strongest bills they have proposed have all been straight-up "antiwar" bills - that is, they bring the troops home to end the war and that's about it. True, that IS the antiwar movement's goal (a goal I wholeheartedly support) - but the problem with it as the stand-alone legislative strategy is that it doesn't allow Democrats to play outside their antiwar archetype on Republican turf, nor does it make the average Republican incumbent all that uncomfortable, because it doesn't force Republicans to make a choice between loyalty to Bush and loyalty to their conservative base.

Right now, the antiwar movement's strategy is a battle of attrition. Keep pushing standalone antiwar bills, and hope that public opposition to the war will force Republicans to peel off. It certainly may work - but to echo Robert Redford's famous line in The Candidate, there is a better way - at least in terms of a legislative strategy that gets our troops out of Iraq as soon as possible.

Think for a moment about which issue Republicans have been trying to one-up and out-conservative each other on...Got it in your head? Right - it's illegal immigration. On that issue, the least offensive Republican proposal from a racist/xenophobic perspective has been the effort to beef up border security. A look at recent congressional votes shows that beefing up border security has the widest bipartisan support among all the immigration-related proposals being considered.

So here's the concept (which, though I'm not 100 percent sure, I don't think has been tried yet in Congress): How about when Congress reconvenes in September, Democrats bring a bill to the floor of the House and Senate mandating that, say, 25,000 National Guardsmen be taken out of combat in Iraq and be immediately redeployed to guard America's porous domestic borders - both southern and northern? If Democrats wanted to get even more creative, they could additionally mandate that some of these National Guardsmen being redeployed be immediately sent to forest fire emergency zones - many of which are in Republican states right now.

Think this through for a moment. All of a sudden, the illegal-immigration-obsessed Tom Tancredo wing of the Republican Party, which also happens to be the most reflexively pro-war wing of the GOP, would be forced to choose either the Iraq War or beefed up border security. All of a sudden, we would be having a debate about two very real, very pressing priorities, rather than theoreticals and hypotheticals, and we would be discussing exactly how the misuse of our National Guard as a wing of the regular Army harms our ability to deal with the domestic challenges the National Guard was originally established to deal with.

With the war so unpopular, far-right, law-and-order, "tough on immigration" conservatives would be hard-pressed to vote against this kind of bill, potentially providing a veto-proof majority in support of it. And if they didn't vote for it, Democrats would have a flip-flop campaign ad all set for 2008. You can just hear the voiceover: "The Republicans who told us they support border security voted against Democrats' bill to secure our borders."

Obviously, this is not an ideal way to end the war. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has said, there are very legitimate concerns about the downsides of militarizing our domestic borders. But Durbin has also said that "Democrats are willing to support any reasonable plan that will secure our borders, including the deployment of National Guard troops." And most if not all would be willing to accepting the potential downsides of an increased military presence at our border (downsides which could be minimized if managed properly) as the price to end the war in Iraq.

And that is precisely what this bill would do. With Bush having recklessly stretched the military so thin, taking 25,000 national guardsmen out of the Iraq deployment rotation would compel an end to the war.

In the legislative arena where making law is making imperfect sausages, this is a strategy designed to break apart the Republican coalition by playing offense on their archetype as "tough on immigration" conservatives. Rather than pursuing only the attrition strategy of digging in on the antiwar archetype and hoping public pressure converts a few Republicans (a strategy that could take months of even years), Democrats have to target one GOP weak point that will make Republicans decide between Bush and their base. This strategy laid out here does precisely that, and would have the very real potential of getting a wave of Republicans to vote yes, thus getting our troops out of Iraq right now.

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David Sirota is a full-time political journalist, best-selling author and nationally syndicated newspaper columnist living in Denver, Colorado. He blogs for Working Assets and the Denver Post's PoliticsWest website. He is a Senior Editor at In These Times magazine, which in 2006 received the Utne Independent Press Award for political coverage. His 2006 book, Hostile Takeover, was a New York Times bestseller, and is now out in paperback. He has been a guest on, among others, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His writing, which draws on his (more...)

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