Elected to Stop War, Democrats Drift on Iraq

What are the Democrats so afraid of?

The country opposes the "surge," as it is now known. The numbers for President Bush and his war have never been lower. You don’t go to war with 36 percent of all Americans behind you.

The military opposes the surge. The guys who were for more troops in the first place say it’s too late now in any event. Everybody else recognizes that our surge doesn’t solve someone else’s civil war.

Consider the testimony of General John Abizaid before the Senate Armed Services Committee in November: “Senator McCain, I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey, we all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no. And the reason is because we want the Iraqis to do more. It is easy for the Iraqis to rely upon to us do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.”

As Colin Powell-- remember him from the U.N. presentation?-- put it in a television appearance on Dec. 17: “I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work.”

And what about Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense, who put it this way: “we had a chance in the beginning to send the right number of troops. We didn't, and now I think it would only make the situation worse and it would make the Iraqis more dependent on us.”

It is precisely because of the military opposition that the Washington Post reported last month that White House aides “were aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

These people aren’t all weaklings. Agreeing with them doesn’t make you one.

With all due respect to Nancy Pelosi and her days of celebration, and the joys of having a mother in charge, and all that, this is not why the Congress changed hands. I’d be the first to claim victory in an election that was about putting a woman on top, if that were the reason, but it wasn’t and it isn’t.

The Iraq war was the reason. Don’t Democratic leaders understand that this is why they won, and why they are in charge? How could they have even thought of putting Iraq on the backburner for the hundred-hour stunt? To misquote the famous James Carville comment, “It’s Iraq, Stupid.”

So why are they so afraid to stand up to the president on his disastrously misconceived plan to dig himself deeper into the hole that Sen. Ted Kennedy rightly calls “his Vietnam.” Why are they tiptoeing around the idea of a symbolic resolution, when they need to take it to the president in as strong a way as possible on the issue that matters most to most Americans?

Answer: Because Democrats are still fighting their own Vietnam. They are paralyzed almost into inaction by the thought that someone would suggest that they aren’t supporting the troops, as opposed to the war. They’re terrified of being blamed for leaving the boys without bullets and the girls without flak jackets.

God forbid someone should say they are soft. No George McGoverns here. That’s why so many of them voted for the war in the first instance. Problem is, they were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

Democrats aren’t worried about war policy, they’re worried about being called names, such as soft, weak, and unsupportive of the troops. They are buying into the conservative babble.

They needn’t be.

Here’s the dirty little secret: nothing the Democrats say or do or vote for is going to stop George Bush from sending more troops to Iraq, much less arming them with adequate equipment.

Congress may control the purse strings in a theoretical sense, but Bush and Co. have both the money and the power to escalate this war, not to mention the responsibility to make sure that if they do, the soldiers have adequate equipment.

Everyone knows this. It’s the good news and the bad news. No one could even figure out how to draft a resolution which would actually preclude an escalation if they wanted to. That’s not a reason to be paralyzed. It’s a reason to act.

Recognizing this, what Ted Kennedy’s proposed resolution does is demand that the president submit his surge plan to Congress for their approval before he does it. It makes clear that the president’s unilateral escalation is just that, and puts him on a collision course with Congress as he digs himself in deeper.

No soldier would lose his weapons if the bill were passed; what it would do is increase the political pressure on the president by making clear that he was acting on his own, without Congressional authority, without the country behind him. One more strike against him.

Stopping a president bound on pursuing a hopeless and unpopular war isn’t easy. That’s another lesson of Vietnam. The Democrats should stop worrying about people blaming them for things that aren’t going to happen, and calling them names that don’t apply, and keep their focus on trying to end this war.

Responding to Kennedy’s stronger language, Congressional leaders inched forward, signaling that, after all, there may be time in the hundred hours for at least a symbolic vote against the president’s plan. It’s not much of a step, but at least it’s better than nothing.

Thanks Teddy. It is going to be a long war. On all fronts.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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