Congress has just voted to fund the war for another year — $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. How could that happen when two-thirds of the public are opposed to the war and the Democrats just gained the majority of both houses in the Congress with a mandate to bring it to a close?
Curbing a rogue president intent on sustaining a failed war is not easy. Public opposition is not enough. The mandate of the 2006 elections is not enough. A slim Democratic majority in both houses of Congress is not enough. Daily evidence of the deepening debacle is not enough.
In this instance, Bush vetoed the bill that set a date for beginning to bring home the troops. Republicans stood with the president, so his veto could not be overridden.
The Democratic leadership faced a hard choice. Activists urged that they pass the same bill again, inviting the same veto, and force Republicans to decide once more whether they stand with the failed policy of an unpopular president or for changing course in Iraq. More cautious voices urged giving the president the money he wanted for another year, and postponing the debate until September when they face the question of 2008 funding.
The first option—forcing another veto—took courage. It isn't business as usual. It would create a firestorm of criticism in the right wing echo chamber. The president would spend the Memorial Day ceremonies and recess excoriating Democrats for abandoning the troops in the field. The Pentagon would announce that they'd run out of money, and were now forced to rob other programs vital to our defense to pay for the troops.
The more conservative members of the Democratic Congress were shaky enough on the first vote. They could easily revolt and vote with Republicans if the leadership forced a second one.
The leadership decided they couldn't take the risk or didn't have the votes. They chose instead to pass a bill funding the war for another year, with only symbolic "benchmarks" requiring reporting on Iraqi government "progress." The president will have his surge; the debate will be revisited in September.
Then, to add insult to this injury, the apparatchiki of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee dispatched a fundraising email describing the war funding as an historic victory. Clearly the party operatives either have no clue about their core supporters, or utter disdain for them.
The lesson is plain. To bring this war to an end will require an independent and resolute movement willing and able to put pressure on politicians of both parties, and to hold them accountable for their actions — or inactions.
The catastrophe in Iraq will continue, with our troops caught in the middle of a civil war they cannot stop. The only question now is how long the folly will continue, how many more lives will be lost, how many more billions squandered, how much more harm to America's security and standing in the world will be done.
The president isn't about to change course. The Congress must bring the war to an end. Vulnerable Republicans must pay a price when they wring their hands, murmur words of opposition and vote to sustain the president's course. Conservative Democrats, those who voted for it from the start and have been slow to understand the scope of the debacle, must be challenged, not sheltered.
The vote on the supplemental gives a good sense of where members stand—who is prepared to stand up and who is prepared to just go along. Over the summer, we should make certain that the latter understand that there is a price to pay to supporting the worst foreign policy debacle in American history.
© 2007 TomPaine.com