Friday, January 12, 2007

De-Funding the War

Give President Bush at least this much credit: He seems to believe sincerely that his Iraq policy makes sense. How else to explian his decision to ignore the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group and add troops at a time when most Americans want them brought home?

Unfortunately, the same sincerity cannot be attributed to most Congressional Democrats and those Congressional Republicans who say they oppose the escalation/surge but are not willing to cut off funding because their standard talking point just won't wash. They say they don't want to make the troops pay -- through inadequate funding -- for a disagreement between the branches. But the troops would not bear the cost of a targeted funding cutoff, one which said that funds could not be spent for troop increases or, better yet, one which said that funds could not be spent in Iraq for any purpose other than ensuring the safety of the currently deployed troops during their expeditious withdrawal. To be sure, at some point, an extraordinarily specfic set of conditions on war funding would interfere with the President's prerogatives as Commander in Chief, and we might expect this particular administration to push the point. Because the courts would likely resist adjudicating such a dispute, there is a real chance that the administration could get away with pursuing its policy in violation of conditions set by Congress. Yet no funding cutoff will guarantee that congressional opposition to Bush's war plans will be ignored. Why not try a funding cutoff?

The answer, I fear, is political calculation. Hiding behind the bogus argument that they do not want to harm our armed forces in the field, those Senators and members of the House who oppose the Bush plan but also oppose a funding cutoff mostly fear the political consequences of taking a decisive measure. There are no good options for the United States in Iraq today, only terrible ones and disastrous ones. A conscientious legislator has a responsibility under these circumstances to pursue what he or she regards as the least terrible option. However, should the Senate and House succeed in foiling the Bush plan and/or bringing the troops home, they will share in the responsibility for the terrible (but hopefully not disastrous) consequences that follow; by contrast, if they merely make noise but permit Bush to do what he wants, they can continue to point fingers. Thus we have the sad spectacle of Harry Reid trying to outmaneuver Mitch McConnell so that the Senate can pass a non-binding resolution opposing the Bush plan.

This sort of political advantage seeking got us in the Iraq mess in the first place. Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq back in 2002 claimed that they only did so to give the President leverage to put together an international coalition that would pressure Saddam either to come clean with UN weapons inspectors or peacefully cede power. But they also feared that a vote against authorizing war would subsequently be used to portray them as soft on national security. Those who voted for the war on that ground thus displayed political cowardice in an effort to ward off charges of insufficient patriotism. Then, as now, true patriots would put the lives of our fighting men and women ahead of political calculations.