Politics as Usual?

02Aug07

First off, I’ll start by saying the YouTube/CNN Democrat debate of last week was awesome. Groundbreaking in many ways, its best facet was certainly the questioners’ insistence on frank answers, and the candidates’ willingness- relatively speaking- to comply with their wishes. There were a ton of great questions posed, but this one struck me as particularly important in terms of the election and particularly overlooked by analysts. You can see the question and answers video here, or read a summarized version of the question from the CNN provided transcript below:

The 2006 election gave the Democrats in office a mandate to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Is the reason why we are still in Iraq and seemingly will be for some time due to the Democrats’ fear that blame for the loss of the war will be placed on them by the Republican spin machine?”

I’ve said for some time that losing the 2006 elections was one of the best things that could have happened to the Republicans. You’d be hard-pressed at this point (or this point last year) to find anyone who can provide a fully conclusive and convincing justification for the Iraq War. Yes, the argument persists that “Saddam was a mass-murderer who needed to be removed anyway” or “we scared terrorists with our firm actions.”

That first statement, while arguably true, was a justification provided after the war- assuming the “war” is even over at this point- not before it. Numerous Iraq think-tanks have proven the second statement absolutely false- most notably, a recent National Intelligence Estimate stated “ [the Iraq war is] cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” Had the case for war been made on the argument that “Saddam is a mass-murderer,” it would most likely have been tossed aside as a neo-con ploy.

The point here is that the Iraq War was widely viewed as a “Republican” war as last year’s election approached. Undoubtedly, that’s a terribly unfair statement; the fact of the matter is that a few hawks high in the administration (Cheney, Libby, Wolfowitz) were able to steer the country towards war on sketchy evidence. Numerous Democrats voted for the war; numerous Republicans, who voted for the war, did so on the basis of misrepresented data. Despite all this, the media portrayed at as the Republicans’ war, and the public bought it.

The 2006 election victory for the Democrats provided a fork in the road: did they (a) attempt to clean things up in Iraq in the 2 years leading to the next Presidential election, or (b) for the most part stand pat and point the media to the fact that the mess in Iraq was too large a problem to be solved in two years?

The reality is that the first choice was never actually viable. In the answer to this question, Kucinich states, “Here’s how we can [end the war]. It doesn’t take legislation. That’s a phony excuse to say that you don’t have the votes. We appropriated $97 billion a month ago. We should tell President Bush, no more funds for the war, use that money to bring the troops home, use it to bring the troops home.” This response, though, fails to take into account one crucial factor: what happens when the Bush administration doesn’t listen?

The Democrats non-binding resolution in March of this year was dismissed by most analysts as “pointless.” What it showed was that the Democrats understood the line between what they wanted to get and what they could get. The non-binding resolution in March provided an opportunity for the Democrats to say, “Hey, look America, we’re trying to get the troops home. But this is the best we can do with the power we’ve been granted. Now maybe if we had just a little bit more, come January 2009….” Senator Dodd echoes this sentiment in the video, saying, “The first responsibility of the commander in chief is to keep our nation safe and secure.” From the time the Democrats have had some “power” it appears their primary objective has been to do what little they can, but at the same time remind the public that this is a “Republican” problem they are trying to solve.

So… is it politics as usual? It is politics as usual in that the Republicans are unwilling to compromise any part of their Iraq plan and it is politics as usual in that the Democrats are unwilling to allow too many Bush administration policies into their plan, lest the blame for Iraq land on their heads.

The bottom line- the reason we’re still in Iraq is a mixture between the fact that Democrats are indeed afraid of the “Republican spin machine,” and that the Democrats can’t actually do anything of tremendous value at this point in ending the Iraq war, militarily or diplomatically.

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