Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Democrats' Dilemma

This past week was historic: the first woman Speaker of the House, a minority member for House majority whip, the first Muslim Congressman (sworn in using Thomas Jefferson’s personal Koran no less, a move that could not have been more brilliant), and only the second black governor in U.S. history. What all of these public officials have in common is that they are Democrats. While the GOP talks diversity, it is the Democratic Party that best mirrors the true diversity in American society.

Not only did the Democrats pass meaningful (though by no means comprehensive) ethics reform on their first day in charge, but their “first 100 hours” agenda consists of popular, common sense measures that will surely increase Congress’s approval rating. Democratic proposals include an increase in the federal minimum wage, federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and allowing the Government to negotiate prices for prescription drugs under Medicare.

All of this portends good news for the Democratic Party, which, despite all of the nonsense we have heard over the past years about Karl Rove’s genius, is poised to become the dominant majority party for the coming decades; the GOP, meanwhile, is shrinking into a Southern regional party powered mostly by religious fanatics and racists.

But on the biggest issue of the day - the Iraq War - the Democrats will soon face a huge dilemma: to what extent should they oppose Bush’s escalation of the conflict?

This week the president is expected to announce an increase in U.S. troops in Iraq. He has already shuffled the generals and intelligence officials in charge and brought in those who are more predisposed to an escalation. For all of the promises of a “new strategy,” what is likely to unfold is more of the same: adding more blood and treasure to a failed policy. The spectacle of Saddam’s execution should have been the final straw to convince the American people that supporting the Iraqi government is not the key to “victory”; it is a government that is in league with Moktada al-Sadr and the Shiite extremists. We are well past the time when military force could succeed in Iraq, and the insurgents can always wait out our troops since they know we have to leave sooner or later. Only when Iraqi leaders agree to real compromise will there be any semblance of stability, and this has little to do with whether we have another 20,000 boots on the ground.

All of this puts the Democrats in a quandary. They know that Bush’s plan will cost many more American and Iraqi lives. They know that the mess will be left in the lap of whoever takes over the White House in 2008, likely a Democrat. They know that their constituents want them to oppose Bush and insist on bringing the troops home.

But Bush is the commander in chief and has the power to wage war. Pelosi and Reid sent the President a strongly worded letter urging him not to escalate the war, and they can hold hearings to expose its futility. But the only way the Democrats can bring the war to a stop is by moving to cut off funding, which carries huge political risks. It could easily result in a huge backlash against the Democrats, and provide an opportunity for Republicans to blame Democrats for our eventual defeat.

So what to do?

Twice in the past I have insisted that the American people voted for Bush and therefore, he should be given the benefit of the doubt to carry out the foreign policy he believes in. I have made the case that this is his war and he should fight it his way to its conclusion. I am fully aware of the moral dilemma this poses, even while Iraq grows more dangerous and costly by the day. But I essentially think this is how the Democrats should proceed. They should make it clear that they strongly oppose his policy, hold him accountable for it, but not threaten to withdraw funding. They might have the middle-ground option to authorize funding for continued operations but not for additional troops, but this would get tricky: almost certainly Bush would find a way to escalate the conflict, which would put the Democrats in an even greater bind.

In conclusion, this is a terrible situation with no good outcome. Elections have consequences. When the American people voted for Bush in 2004, after he had displayed incompetence and hubris and showed that he was out of touch with reality, they made an error that America, Iraq and the whole world continue to pay for. Democrats will not be able to remedy the situation until 2008 at the earliest, when they get a chance to restore sanity to the White House.

P.S. It seems as if Pelosi just this morning suggested that the Democrats will try to take the "middle way"; fund current troops but not additional ones without sufficient "justification". This is going to get really interesting really fast.

Jason Scorse

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