LOS ANGELES – What’s the point of a non-binding resolution that the president has already said would not affect his decisions?
How do you send a message to a person who isn’t listening?
The resolution affirming support for the troops and opposition to the surge won’t really do anything, notwithstanding the heated debate about whether to pass it. It won’t stop the war, save a life, or slow the surge. Nancy Pelosi says the president can’t completely ignore “the voice of the American people,” but my bet is he’ll try.
The reason the resolution matters is not because of its impact on the president, but on Congress; not because it will goad the president into action, but because it will force Congress to face its own fears.
From the point of view of most anti-war activists, for the Congress to spend days debating a bill that has no impact on anything is barely a step in the right direction.
“Congress has no choice but to do some binding action after the nonbonding resolution, or the antiwar community will go beserk if they are perceived as hesitating,” Tom Matzzie, who runs the Washington office of moveon.org, told reporters.
Theoretically, of course, having voted to oppose the president, members of Congress could then proclaim themselves to be powerless to do more. They could embrace impotence, and try to turn gutlessness into a virtue.
Or they could explicitly take on the biggest obstacle to action: their own fear of being seen as not supporting the troops. That’s the third rail in politics: support for the troops. Whoever defines what it means to support the troops wins the argument. It’s a political problem, and it’s Congress’ at this point, not the president’s.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, acknowledging that “there is not just one vote at any one time that is going to be the magic pill,” emphasized that Democrats “are going to keep ratcheting up the pressure so that public opinion and congressional opinion is so strong that the President will have no choice but to change strategy.”
But real pressure requires Congressional courage. Passing a non-binding resolution is easy. The easy part is over. In order to use the power that they do have, Democrats have to redefine what it means to support the troops.
No matter what they do next, Republicans will accuse Democrats (and their own colleagues who agree with the leadership) of not supporting the troops. They’re already accusing them of it, just for voting for a resoloution that has no impact, and expressly affirms support for the troops.
So why let it stop you?
Why buy into the argument that you support the troops by squashing dissent, much less by allowing the president to send more of them to die in someone else’s civil war?
The truth is that Congress couldn’t de-fund the troops on the ground if they wanted to, which they don’t. Budgets are not surgically constructed. No one is trying to take anything away from the troops on the ground, except their orders to be there.
John Murtha, who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee, has suggested an amendment to the president’s most recent request for more funding that would ban the deployment of troops that do not meet strict standards of readiness in terms of equipment and training. The idea is that you “support the troops” not by blanket appropriations but by insuring that they are indeed protected. It’s not a “slow bleed,” as Republicans have termed it, but an effort to staunch it.
Ensuring that troops are ready to fight, however, is obviously not the ultimate answer to how you “support the troops.” Bringing them home is. Having stood up to the president the first time should make it easier to do again.
Congress has nothing to fear but fear itself. If they can overcome that, they might be able to stop this war. They owe it to the troops, and the country, to try.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was previously Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and was the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System,” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
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, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for foxnews.com.