As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Switching Teams

Something truly bizarre is going on in Washington. It's like both teams switched sides and started wearing each other's uniforms. I can't seem to figure it out.

The Bush Administration is bowing to pressure from the Democrats and the public on a host of fronts. Steve Benen chronicles them all nicely in the context of this new report that Condi Rice will atend a high-level conference in Baghdad of Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria.

Many of the media reports this morning emphasize that the Iraq Study Group recommended this course of action several months ago, but it was rejected by the Bush administration until now. I’d add that it wasn’t just the ISG — John Kerry and several Democratic presidential hopefuls from 2004 were recommending the exact same thing (regional conference, U.S. talks with Iran and Syria, etc.). At the time, the White House and its GOP allies said Dems didn’t know what they were talking about.

Is it me, or has this been happening a lot lately?

* The Bush administration did a complete 180-degree turn on its policy towards North Korea this month, embracing Bill Clinton’s approach to the conflict, despite years of blasting Clinton’s policy.

* In 2004, John Kerry insisted that the size of the military needed to be increased. At the time, Bush said Kerry was completely wrong. In December, Bush embraced Kerry’s policy as his own.

* Throughout 2006, Dems said the administration’s warrantless-search program through the NSA needed to be subject to judicial oversight. The Bush gang said it would be dangerous, and practically impossible, to do so. Last month, the White House acceded to Dems’ demands.

* The White House argued that criticism of the war in Iraq from congressional Dems was pointless and counterproductive. Then the White House decided the criticism served a diplomatic purpose after all.

I can think of another one, with Dick Cheney threatening Pakistan that Democrats will cut off financial aid unless they take a harder line toward terrorism and Al Qaeda. So there are at least three instances where the Bush Administration was willing to let Democrats play bad cop and use their ideas on foreign policy as a wedge to get others to act. And it's not like core conservatives are happy about this approach, particularly with respect to the North Korea deal, which they lambasted.

What is clear is that even as nutty a group as the Bush Administration is capable of responding to public pressure. There may be a variety of reasons for these responses, and the cynic in me can pull out a bunch of them (North Korea was back-burnered to clear the decls for Iran, Bush wants to increase the size of the military to wage more wars, the regional conference in Iraq would happen even without the US so we're there to babysit and veto things we don't like), but obviously, the Bush Administration sees value in adopting the language and policies of the Democrats. If they don't, their party will sink even further into the morass.

And yet, at the same time when Democrats are finally starting to move the debate in their direction, they have apparently decided to unilaterally disarm with regard to Iraq. Why?

House Democratic leaders are developing an anti-war proposal that wouldn't cut off money for U.S. troops in Iraq but would require President Bush to acknowledge problems with an overburdened military.

The plan could draw bipartisan support but is expected to be a tough sell to members who say they don't think it goes far enough to assuage voters angered by the four-year conflict.

Bush "hasn't to date done anything we've asked him to do, so why we would think he would do anything in the future is beyond me," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., one of a group of liberal Democrats pushing for an immediate end to the war.

The Jack Murtha readiness plan, which has been victim to a vicious smear before it was even finalized, is now not likely to gain majority support in the House, despite the fact that it has majority support in the country. So we're going to let troops forego desert training and increase their chances of being killed? Bush will have to sign waivers now that admit he is letting troops be deployed without proper equipment or training. The man hasn't an ounce of self-awareness or shame, so what will this impact? But yet even Nancy Pelosi has now backed off from the readiness strategy. I really don't get it.

And in the Senate, it's even worse.

In the Senate, a group of senior Democrats wants to repeal the 2002 measure authorizing the war and write a new resolution restricting the mission and ordering troop withdrawals to begin by this summer. But Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Iraq would have to wait until the Senate finishes work to improve homeland security.

"That would mean we would hold off the Iraq legislation for a matter of days, not weeks," he said.

They couldn't attach the proposal to homeland security measures because Joe Lieberman chairs that panel. But surely they knew that already. And when they do introduce this de-authorization resolution, the word is that it will also be nonbinding. I am beginning to question the commitment to actually end this war, or just to scowl with disapproval about it.

The thing is that the kitchen sink strategy was working. Concessions were being made. The White House was back on its heels. And then the Democrats let up on the gas. Antiwar leader Tom Andrews is unhappy.

"The Republicans should be on their heels," Andrews says. "They have put the troops in these conditions -- and they're the ones on the offensive!"

"There should be a relentless attack" from Dems, Andrews continues. "Dems in Congress should be talking relentlessly about the lack of equipment, the lack of training, the multiple deployments, every day. There should be a relentless demand for accountability."

Russ Feingold is unhappy.

Wisconsin's Russ Feingold says the Iraq bill his fellow Senate Democrats are working on is so weak that it "basically reads like a new authorization" of the war.

"I am working to fix the new proposal drafted by several Senate Democrats," Feingold said in a statement this afternoon. "I will not vote for anything that the President could read as an authorization for continuing with a large military campaign in Iraq."

He hasn't given up on "using our Constitutionally-granted power of the purse to bring this catastrophe to an end," he said, though the Senate leadership has not only rejected that approach, but said it would be tantamount to abandoning the troops.

One of Jack Murtha's top supporters is unhappy.

To think that Mr. Murtha would take an action that is not in the best interests of our troops is lunacy. No one in the Congress has spent more years in combat nor more time listening to the young men and women and their families who serve our country than Jack Murtha. Just as Mr. Murtha forced Congress and the President to spend money on protective body armor and up-armored Humvees, Jack is now the first American leader to propose a true plan that "supports our troops" in a more genuine way than simply cheering them on into battle.

But for the most part, Democrats are perfectly willing to let this nightmare in Iraq continue without pressuring the Administration to bring it to a close, a strategy that was WORKING. What happened, where the Republican President started listening to the other side and the Democratic Congress started laying down their arms? It's baffling and it really disappoints me, as it does Chris Bowers.

It is hard for me to decide what pisses me off about this the most. It angers me to no end that Democrats are crushing aside a strategy, the Murtha plan, which has overwhelming popular support. The Democratic majority in congress, when considered as a whole, is clearly far behind the public on Iraq.

It also angers me that one of the main reasons Democrats are backing away, if not the main reason, is that Democrats are too scared of Republican talking points to do anything that might anger the Republican Noise Machine. Even though the public never did, Democrats on the hill bought so thoroughly into the "cutting off funding" for troops in the field line that they were too scared to do anything. Clearly, Democrats are far more scared of the Republican media machine than they are of the people who put them in power.

It further angers me that we won't even get a roll call vote on Murtha's plan, or on binding legislation to rewrite the AUMF. If they are not going to push for a roll call vote, I can only assume that there is no majority for Murtha's plan in the House. We need to know which Democrats are in opposition to it, but we are not going to. Instead of pushing members to support Murtha's plan, the leadership is dumping the plan altogether, and not even forcing the Democrats who oppose it to stand up and be counted. The leadership is covering for these cowardly Democrats, rather than leading them.

It is now difficult to see another opportunity for Democrats in Congress to restrict and / or end the war in Iraq for another year. I don't know who is behind this, but I strongly suspect Steny Hoyer. No matter who is behind it, it is clear that many Democrats in Washington, D.C., do not view their position as derived from the electorate, but rather than conditional upon their favor within beltway circles. As long as that attitude persists, you will never see a populist, much less a progressive, majority in Washington, D.C.

We're going to have to get together and make sure everyone in the Democratic caucus is held accountable on Iraq. That goes for Presidential candidates as well, especially ones who say things like "She believes in executive authority and Congressional deference, her advisers say, and is careful about suggesting that Congress can overrule a commander in chief." These are people who mean to rule with the same iron fist that has characterized the Bush years. It's un-American to say the very least.

We need leadership in Congress and not this backsliding. They may not get a winning vote, but each time they further isolate Republicans and the President. And it's been WORKING. I really don't get it.

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