Monday, February 12, 2007

Explaining Democratic Passivism on Iraq

Lynn Chu and John Yoo dissect the Democratic congressional leadership's surprisingly weak policy moves on Iraq in today's New York Times. "Why are the pacifists so passive," they ask? The question's important, because it's in congressional Democrats' power to end the war if they choose. Yet, so far, opposition to the Bush administration has been symbolic:

The fact is, Congress has every power to end the war — if it really wanted to.... In 1973, Congress affirmatively acted to cut off funds for Vietnam. It also cut off money for the Nicaraguan contras with the Boland Amendment in 1982.

Not only could Congress cut off money, it could require scheduled troop withdrawals, shrink or eliminate units, or freeze weapons supplies. It could even repeal or amend the authorization to use force it passed in 2002.

A pullout, however, would have no chance of success, because its supporters are likely to lack the two-thirds majority necessary to override a presidential veto. But to stop President Bush’s proposed troop surge, Congress doesn’t have to do anything. It can just sit back and fail to enact the periodic supplemental spending measures required to keep the war going....

The Constitution doesn’t pick winners. It leaves it to the three branches to use their unique powers to struggle for supremacy....

But with power comes responsibility. The truth is that this Congress is not sure what to do in Iraq. Its hesitation reflects America’s uncertainty and divisions. Antiwar bluster is high at the moment, echoing popular frustration and grim news from Baghdad.

Our elected representatives know, however, that policy can’t be made by poll. Most also understand that that leaving Iraq to a sectarian power struggle would break our word and lead to slaughter. A failed state in Iraq would breed more terrorism, not less, by becoming a haven for more radical training camps.

Most in Congress, in fact, are not eager to replay Vietnam. The United States has had far fewer casualties in this conflict. Our national security interests here are high. If we falter now, it would be read as a “defeat” and embolden more terrorist attacks on us. Once again the world would begin to doubt American strength. This would undermine our ability to conduct credible diplomacy, while electrifying Islamists to further jihad.

The truth is that the Democrats in Congress would rather sit back and let the president take the heat in war than do anything risky.

Democratic passivity demonstrates that President Bush is not as weakened as many had thought he'd be coming out of the November elections. In fact, as Richard Wolffe and Holley Bailey note in a Newsweek online exclusive this week, Bush's troop surge initiative, and the Democrats' failure to stop it, marks a substantial achievement for the White House, and helps the GOP at a critical point on the electoral calendar.

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