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May 24, 2007

Comments

I completely agree. It was incredibly frustrating to watch the Democrats consistently refuse to explain what Bush was doing.

Implicit in Bush's rhetoric is the notion that the continuation of the war is some sort of inevitable, inexorable fact. We are supposed to believe that our options are either A) the war continuing with funding or B) the war continuing without funding. It's either troops fighting with ammo or troops fighting with rocks. There are no other options.

In reality, even with a cut off of funding, the troops would only be endangered if Bush continued to order them into harm's way, despite not having sufficient supplies.

It reminds me of that famous National Lampoon cover with the picture of the dog with a gun to his head: IF YOU DON'T BUY THIS MAGAZINE, WE'LL KILL THIS DOG.

That was essentially Bush's position: If you don't fund this war, I'll harm our troops. And he would have.

I think I see it more as "if you don't agree to our long term demands by signing this bill we tied to funding short term war needs, the troops won't get any funding." Congress was playing chicken from the beginning, and blinked first.

When push came to shove, the Democrats collectively either: (1) don't believe we've already lost and went through this messy process to send the message that they really, really didn't like the way things were going in Iraq, or (2) they're convinced we've already lost but didn't have the courage to stick to their convictions. Take yer pick.

It's not all that often that I think "Charles seems to have it covered."

Charles seems to have it covered pretty well.

What was the middle thing?

Charles: (2) is the correct answer. The Dems were scared of being painted as 'soft on communism'.

Publius is correct that this bill was a pyrrhic victory for Bush (conditions will not improve in Iraq regardless of how many billion$ we send), but he was wrong about the Dems - this was a loss for them as they showed that they did not have courage of their convictions. At a minimum, the House should have passed the second measure that Bush threatened to veto.

Come September when the morass in Iraq hasn't noticeably improved, what will the Dems do then? My prediction is they will blink once more and pass additional funding for Iraq.

Best line was from Hit & Run a couple months back "this is not the cut-and-run Congress. This is sit-and-bitch." Sadly a true statement.

Exactly, hil. Exactly.

At the very least, I wanted to see one more clean bill that provided the funding and tied it to readiness requirements and/or some benchmarks with actual teeth in them. Force people to vote on the issue. Force it to be as clear as possible. And then publicize the results of that vote far and wide. Dems will never get the President to stop trying to veto anything that requires actual responsibility for this war. What Dems CAN do is make it so politically untenable for Republicans to stand with him that you eventually override a veto.

What I don't get is: why are the Democrats still buying into the Bob Shrum/Marshall Wittman vision of their party, given that it's a proven loser politically, a proven loser at moving the terms of the debate, and (in present context) morally wrong to boot? It's like they slept through the 2006 election or something.

hilzoy, are you going to take a second look at Edwards as a result of this?

And yeah, Charles pretty much has it covered.

"It's like they slept through the 2006 election or something."

I'm not yet convinced that the country is sufficiently tired of the war that it's safe to start defunding. I'm certainly not confident my skill in making such political calculations is better than that of the Democratic leadership, which seemed pretty savvy to me before this.

Rilke, that would be a relevant concern if we were talking about a push for defunding. But we're not, not on the Democratic side, only about funding with planning for withdrawal, measures of progress or its lack on various aspects of the conflict, and so on. This becomes defunding only insofar as Bush does his thing.

hilzoy - some thoughts on this.

first, the passion and thought of many progressives here is both impressive and has certainly given me pause today ("am i really right"). this post is very much in that category. in light of that, the one thing I think the Dems could have done was to stretch it out longer (the Memorial Day business was just silly).

but that said, I think there are two things to separate, conceptually speaking. one is the message dems should say, while the other is the message they can say INSTITUTIONALLY. in other words, i think the executive has an enormous advantage in the media age -- a big, structural advantage in terms of getting the message out, framing the debate, etc. compare for instance the fact that bush gets on page A1 while Rahm E's speech got nuthin.

my point -- yes, it's true that Dems could say all these things and should. it's also true that Bush is the one denying funds. but in the postmodern world of spin shaping reality, the president's narrative would have stuck, IMHO. the dems would be blamed for abandoning the troops and it would revive bush's presidency.

that's not to say bush-- weakened duck that he is -- can shape narratives on e-thing. but i think given (1) prior conceptions of dems; and (2) the executives structural advantage, this isn't a fight that the dems can win yet.

but, this is much food for thought. i guess my wrath is directed more at the ignorance of the american people than the democrats. after all, the senate is still basically 49-49.

i'll have a much longer more coherent discussion of this later. but good post

Bruce, when Bush does his thing and the funds run out, then it does become defunding. And I agree with RF that it's far from clear that the public will stand with the Democrats at that point, especially since the media as usual will not be on our side at all.

With the media blasting sensational stories about the troops running out of ammunition and food, and with the White House, the cable news commentators, the radio talk shows, the newspaper columnists, and whoever else joins in saying it's the Democrats' fault (despite the fact that Bush was the one who repeatedly vetoed the funding), things could get very ugly very fast. I don't like that that's the world we live in, but I believe it is, the 2006 election notwithstanding.

Hurm. Okay, even though it's not my reading, I'll grant it as a sensible reading, KC. Rilkefan, ignore preceding. :)

The idea that Bush's PR narrative would stick is, I think, irrelavent.

Usually whatever the WH or the Republican party says... sticks. It sticks in the media, yes. They will get the most favorable play.

But what no one seems to notice, or bring mention much, is that no matter how much it sticks, it's ineffectual at this point.

It provides cover for them within Washington D.C. and with the opinon makers here. But it does not work as well in the electorate. I'm fairly certain the 2006 election helped prove that.

The people of this country are far ahead of the politicians and the media on this issue.

Which begs the question, what do we do now?

what do we do now?

it doesn't matter what we do. we are irrelevant until Nov 2008.

i suggest a big beach trip.

I tend to come down on the side of RF and KC on this one. And hilzoy, you said it in your post "The Republicans and the MEDIA have consistently portrayed passing a funding bill that Bush doesn't like as "failing to provide money for the troops."

And yes, I did hear soem Democrats attempt to put it on the president as refusing to fund the troops with his veto. But the media overdid the Dems refusing to fund meme.

What I find really interesting is that when the Republicans were in charge of Congress, most stories were prefaced with "Congress did". Now most stories, particularly this one are prefaced with "The Democratically controlled Congress".

Particularly when the story tends to be negative about Congress. Right now it only takes a few Representatives and a couple of Senators to pfrevent it form being a Congress controlled by the Democrats. Additionally, Gary repeatedly made the point yesterday about people speaking as though the Democrats were a monolithic group. They aren't.

I am angry and upset, as well. But to be honest, I was somewhat surprised the first funding bill passed at all. I figured there would be more defections at that point. I think there would have been this time if the same or a similar bill had been sent up for a vote.

"it doesn't matter what we do. we are irrelevant until Nov 2008.

i suggest a big beach trip."

Beach trips are great, although I tend to wander off looking at shorebirds. But we are not irrelevant until 2008. We can start by deciding to attend those Memorial Day thingos that Congresspeople hold. They need to hear about it. And to hear not just anger, but, if possible, constructive suggestions.

I think I see it more as "if you don't agree to our long term demands by signing this bill we tied to funding short term war needs, the troops won't get any funding." Congress was playing chicken from the beginning, and blinked first.

It takes two to play chicken, but I guess I don't really disagree with this. The question is, do you (i.e. anyone) fault Congress for playing in the first place or do you fault them for the subsequent blinking?

I think I see it more as "if you don't agree to our long term demands by signing this bill we tied to funding short term war needs, the troops won't get any funding." Congress was playing chicken from the beginning, and blinked first.

It takes two to play chicken, but I guess I don't really disagree with this. The question is, do you (i.e. anyone) fault Congress for playing in the first place or do you fault them for the subsequent blinking?

They need to hear about it.

the polls should be able to tell them everything they need to know. as Atrios says, people hate the war and they hate Bush. it's not political suicide to do what the people say they want in poll after poll.

in my case, my Congressman does the right thing. but my Senators are Dole and Burr - they aren't interested in what some dirty hippy liberal has to say.

I honestly think the Democrats did the right thing here. Congress cannot control how a war is run without making things worse. Timetables, benchmarks etc. are a total nonsense. It's not an IT project, it's a very fluid situation with constantly changing parameters and expectations.

Look, Bush is obviously a crappy driver, but you don't make a head-on collision any less likely by imposing arbitrary moments in the future when the driver is obliged to brake, accelerate to 80 mph, or turn hard left.

Not that benchmarks would have any meaning whatsoever anyway. Even if the benchmarks had some kind of internal logic in the first place (doubtful), numbers are fuzzy, and quantitative readings for an inherently non-quantitative situation are a meaningless measure of success or failure.

Congress can only protest (they've now done that), or refuse to fund the war. Good luck with the second option. I honestly don't know what you expected the Dems to do.

Behold my amazing predictive powers. April 10:

Zmulls: Bush assumes the Democrats will be blamed for any standoff.

I think that is exactly what will happen. I don’t think he will have any problem vetoing or sustaining a veto. I almost think he relishes the showdown. He’ll give a speech (maybe prime time) about timelines and pork and Democrats not funding the troops.

It will take hold and Democrats will cave and send back a clean bill.

Note that I did not say this is my desired outcome, I said it is what I believe will occur.

OK, so maybe that wasn’t too difficult to predict :(

Hair,

I don't fault them, because it is an inherent power of Congress to pass bills like that, just as it is inherent for the President to veto them...but I disagree with the general tone here that it was the President alone that was playing chicken with the troops welfare.

byrningman: Look, Bush is obviously a crappy driver, but you don't make a head-on collision any less likely by imposing arbitrary moments in the future when the driver is obliged to brake, accelerate to 80 mph, or turn hard left.

You do minimize the chances of a head-on collision with the ground if you impose a condition that when the driver is steering the vehicle directly towards the edge of the Grand Canyon, he shall be required to stop the vehicle before he actually goes over the edge. You may not be able to specify exactly when the vehicle's front wheels will cross the cliff edge and impending disaster will become a red crunchy mess three miles down, but you surely can say that the brakes need to go on before that happens.

Maybe September 2008 was too late. But it was a chance to save the US military from impending doom. At this point, Bush is relying on the sense of duty and sense of professionalism of several hundred thousand people, to keep serving even though they know what they are doing is pointless and will get more and more of them killed and maimed.

Not to say what the continued occupation will do to the Iraqis. I can hardly bear to think about that. But why are Republicans so indifferent to what Bush is doing to the US military? When even Colin Powell concedes that Iraq has "almost broken" the military, why this submission to Bush's need to keep the war going until his Presidency is over?


byrningman: Look, Bush is obviously a crappy driver, but you don't make a head-on collision any less likely by imposing arbitrary moments in the future when the driver is obliged to brake, accelerate to 80 mph, or turn hard left.

You do minimize the chances of a head-on collision with the ground if you impose a condition that when the driver is steering the vehicle directly towards the edge of the Grand Canyon, he shall be required to stop the vehicle before he actually goes over the edge. You may not be able to specify exactly when the vehicle's front wheels will cross the cliff edge and impending disaster will become a red crunchy mess three miles down, but you surely can say that the brakes need to go on before that happens.

Maybe September 2008 was too late. But it was a chance to save the US military from impending doom. At this point, Bush is relying on the sense of duty and sense of professionalism of several hundred thousand people, to keep serving even though they know what they are doing is pointless and will get more and more of them killed and maimed.

Not to say what the continued occupation will do to the Iraqis. I can hardly bear to think about that. But why are Republicans so indifferent to what Bush is doing to the US military? When even Colin Powell concedes that Iraq has "almost broken" the military, why this submission to Bush's need to keep the war going until his Presidency is over?


The political pawn was conceived from Democratic seed and was effectively aborted by veto. This birth, although Cesarean, is a healthier, more vibrant result. And I'm sure Olberman appreciates your attention, his mandate is pretty clear indeed.

I think that is exactly what will happen. I don’t think he will have any problem vetoing or sustaining a veto. I almost think he relishes the showdown. He’ll give a speech (maybe prime time) about timelines and pork and Democrats not funding the troops.

It will take hold and Democrats will cave and send back a clean bill.

Note that I did not say this is my desired outcome, I said it is what I believe will occur.

Cool. I now have dibs on September.

What's up with the comments today!!! I'll try again.

...but I disagree with the general tone here that it was the President alone that was playing chicken with the troops welfare.

Where's Gary? The metaphor police are never around when you need them. I suppose "playing chicken" means something else when you add "...with the troops welfare." The Congress always had a way to save the troops from the President, which they used, as some have argued, prematurely. I think the argument people are making, and which sounds right to me, is that tying conditions to funding the war doesn't put the troops in harms way, nor does defunding the war entirely for that matter, when you have a moral president in office.

"Where's Gary?"

He's out searching for the ' missing from the end of "troops'".

I hope Hilzoy or someone with specialized knowledge will help out here with the details of what has been going on with supplemental appropriations for Iraq. Here is what I think I know. I will appreciate corrections and information.

Congress, in March or April 07 passed a supplemental appropriations with timetables. Bush vetoed it. Is that what happened?

Is the bill that passed this week without timetables a supplemental appropriation bill to replace that which was vetoed earlier, if in fact that veto happened?

What period of time is covered by the bill that was passed this week? I see references to another fight in September over funding; is that when this bill's funding expires?

Thank you if you help out with this.

Doran: as I understand it: earlier Congress passed a supplemental appropriations bill. Bush vetoed it, since it had timelines. Congress just passed a new supplemental appropriations bill to replace the first. It appropriates the money the military will need through the end of Sept., when (iirc) the fiscal year ends. By that point, Congress will need to pass a new Defense Appropriations Bill, appropriating money for the next fiscal year.

Comments are back? Then I'll note that I don't have a position beyond not knowing how the public would react in the various scenarios.

Also still curious how this affects those leaning towards Obama.

Can someone explain the significance of September? Some reports say this bill only funds the war through September (I just heard it again on NPR). But $120 billion seems like a lot for 4 months.

Anyway, if that's true, then why isn't this being portrayed as the strategy several Democrats have been talking about for a while, of sending a relatively clean bill that only funds for a few months, then coming back in September for renewal, when the congressional Republicans are that much more likely to be ready to give up on the "surge" and on Bush?

I've heard nothing saying that this bill was cut down to a shorter time and thus less funding, so how can it be for only 4 months?

Ah, my last comment was written an hour or two ago during the Typepad troubles. I see some people have addressed the issue since, though I'm still confused.

I feel sick with frustration with the Dem leadership.

On the othher hannd, maybe in the long run it will be better if we go into the 08 election withh Iraq as the primary issue and a clear choice between pro and annti war Presidential candidates. Thhat way we, as a nation, can have an up or down vote on the war. I think thhere would be less acrimony in the long run if the outcome was decided that way.

The problem, of course, is that every day between now and then a few more soldiers will die for Republican vanity and Democratic cowardice.

Also still curious how this affects those leaning towards Obama.
Not sure what you mean.

As far as how it affects an Obama supporter: I'm glad he voted the right way. I'm not sure what other reaction there is to have.

What wonkie said.

I have already noted that I lean away from Clinton on a variety of grounds. I am not particularly comfortable with Edwards on foreign policy (not specifically Iraq.) When I have some reason to consider moving to one of the other candidates, it would probably be Dodd, with Richardson also in the running.

Making matters worse if Congress tries to reassess in September is Patraeus's history suggesting he may try to massage his analysis to reflect Administration desires.

I ask about Obama because I would want my candidate to have spent the last few weeks sounding more like Edwards than Clinton (maybe even more capitulatory in advance than her for that matter).


hilzoy: "I lean away from Clinton on a variety of grounds."

I thought you did more than lean, and I wasn't actually clear on why.

"I am not particularly comfortable with Edwards on foreign policy (not specifically Iraq.)"

What in particular? Beyond the indirect effect of his trade stance, I'm not aware of any big differences in the views of the leading candidates on foreign policy. Maybe Clinton would be more of a liberal interventionist by inclination, but I don't see us doing anything active for a long while.

Also, given that Iraq is the major foreign policy issue of the day, and Edwards seems best on it now, I'd think that would be a good argument in his favor if one is unhappy with the vote mess.

Is there anyone who believes Petraeus's report will say anything other than "We're making progress (insert cherry-picked stats), but we need another Friedman unit or so and a few hundred billion dollars more"?

"Anyway, if that's true, then why isn't this being portrayed as the strategy several Democrats have been talking about for a while, of sending a relatively clean bill that only funds for a few months, then coming back in September for renewal, when the congressional Republicans are that much more likely to be ready to give up on the "surge" and on Bush?"

Hmm?

rilkefan: I don't like Clinton on foreign policy. For one thing, there's the Iraq vote. Either she believed in it, which is beginning to seem likely, in which case I really don't trust her judgment, or she didn't, which is as bad in a different way. I don't like what she's said on Israel. I think that it's important to support Israel, but also important to recognize that sometimes the best way to do that involves disagreeing with the current Israeli government, and/or the Israel lobby in this country, neither of which is omniscient. I see no sign that she's likely to do so.

I think that health care is one of the most important domestic issues we're going to face in 2008-12, and that she is uniquely constrained by her history in how she addresses it. I think that will tie her hands in truly unfortunate ways.

Similarly, I think there's often a difference between how liberal someone really is and how liberal that person is thought to be. I prefer people who are more liberal than they seem. Clinton is the opposite, and will keep having to prove that she is not too liberal when in fact she really isn't that liberal at all.

I think she's hated by too much of the country, and I would like to make the GOP go to the trouble of demonizing our candidate from scratch, rather than nominating someone who is already pre-demonized.

Also, by all accounts (including my best sense from the media, but also accounts by people I know who have had dealings with her), she is very smart and very articulate and very all sorts of other good things, but also very very ambitious, to the point where I've encountered a lot of concern about whether, after all this time, that has somehow taken her over, or unmoored or displaced her basic convictions. This from people who like her.

Also, I really don't like Mark Penn, her main advisor. At all.

That's what comes to mind.

"I think she's hated by too much of the country, and I would like to make the GOP go to the trouble of demonizing our candidate from scratch, rather than nominating someone who is already pre-demonized."

I agreed with all the rest and was glad to see you say all that, but for once I'll come to Hillary's defense. The modern GOP slime machine and their MSM helpers can demonize anyone on the basis of nothing at all. Bob Somerby has pretty much convinced me of that. They've already got the storylines ready for Obama and Edwards. David Brooks alluded to them tonight on the Newshour. HRC might possibly be good at dealing with this, having gone through it all before and with a fair number of Americans actually in her corner. (Why so many people like her I don't quite get either.)

"I think that it's important to support Israel, but also important to recognize that sometimes the best way to do that involves disagreeing with the current Israeli government, and/or the Israel lobby in this country, neither of which is omniscient. I see no sign that she's likely to do so."

For what little it's worth, I do think that it's easier for a President, in most circumstances, to be strong with Israel, than it is for a Senator from New York.

A Senator from New York has a far higher percentage of right-wing Jewish constituents than that of any other state, simply because a Senator from New York has a far higher percentage of Jewish constituents than that of any other state.

This isn't to say that I believe it's impossible for a Senator from NY to be more critical of Israel than Senator Clinton has been, or that she doesn't deserve criticism there, since I agree with you that she does. Nor do I have a clue how President Hillary Clinton would behave in this regard. I'm just saying one can't assume it's inevitable she'd continue precisely the same pattern, which point I suspect you agree with.

I do find it as frustrating as innumerable other American Jews -- who are overwhelmingly liberal -- do that there is the highly right-wing lobbying group, AIPAC, and some similar lesser bodies, and there are the relatively tiny left-wing Jewish groups, but the vast majority of liberal American Jews seem somehow to be left without a broad organization, or set of spokespeople, to represent our POV, which is to firmly support Israel's right to exist and defend itself legitimately, while desiring to hold Israel to the highest possible realistic human rights standards, and make sure all possibilities for Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli peace, and the fulfillment of the two-state solution, are pursued with fervor, speed, energy, and committment.

But I don't have experience at starting nationwide organizations that represent the number of people called for here, I'm afraid.

Interesting that this moves to a view of the presidential campaign. Nothing wrong with that, but it does tell us a lot about the forces that are shaping this debate. I'm also incredibly disappointed by the vote, but I can't help but feel it's like watching a chess match and getting disappointed in the opening gambit where one side gives up a knight for a pawn. Not that I think we have any grandmasters of political strategy floating around.

Thanks for the comments.

On the Iraq vote: I think her explanation for it was sound, given her reasonable views about presidential authority and our moral role in the world, if one grants the false but hard-to-belie-in-public assumption that Bush was responsible and competent. She said at the time of the vote that the available information did not justify invading, and that judgment is the most important fact to me.

On Israel, I'm unaware of any evidence that she would be different than Bill, who I thought did a good job.

On health care, I suspect political reality will constrain the next president more than any supposed difficulties resulting from having the most expertise available.

I don't know that Clinton is less liberal than she's perceived - I'd say that's as likely to be true of Obama. In any case, it's my view that the next president will be a Democrat - if Clinton turns out to be more in tune with the country than it expects, that might be all to the good.

I think any successful Democrat will be hated by too much of the country. Also, see previous.

I don't have any time for the "she's too ambitious" charge.

I rather hope her main advisor is (and esp. will be when she's president) not Penn but Bill.

Jon Stewart does Olbermann only not quite so earnest.

Hair,

With regard to troops, "playing chicken" means the same thing, it is "welfare" that has a different meaning.

From my perspective, continuing the war is the moral answer. The improvement in the Iraqi military continues. I work with Iraqi army units and police everyday, and those guys are doing hard, dangerous work well. And it is work that we would not have US soldiers do, such as stand in the middle of a traffic circle all day directing traffic. Those guys are ridiculously brave (or fatalistic), and our soldiers are happy to see them there, because it protects us. It is also work they were not doing just a year ago.

On a recent mission with Iraqi security forces, my soldiers were impressed with the quick disciplined actions of the Iraqis at the scene of an accident, performed to a standard that I don't think my company equals (though our mission is different).

It is the type of progress that does not measure easily, and when bombarded with death counts and malfeasance in parts of the security forces it is easy to see why so many think there is no progress here. But the Iraqi forces are standing up, doing good work for the most part, and just need more time to get the higher level command and systems working.

From my perspective, continuing the war is the moral answer. The improvement in the Iraqi military continues. I work with Iraqi army units and police everyday, and those guys are doing hard, dangerous work well. And it is work that we would not have US soldiers do

As in the recent massacre of Qara Lus, when Iraqi soldiers killed 15 Kurds?

Uh huh.

The commander blamed the attack on the so-called "Islamic State of Iraq", an alliance of Sunni militant groups that serves as a front for al-Qaeda in Iraq and has a strong presence in the war-torn province of Diyala.

Ok, then. I'm sure he's lying through his teeth.

Jes, I'm not clear that there's any way to tell whether it was actually iraqi security forces or not. There doesn't seem to be a lot of accountability involved.

In my state if the police knock on my door I can ask them their badge numbers and phone the police department to confirm that it's really them, and open the door after I know they aren't imposters. They'll think I'm a kook and likely have a lot of extra questions for me, but I *can* do it. Unless it's a no-knock raid, which is rare.

If they'd had something like that in that kurdish village then it makes sense there wouldn't have been any survivors, whoever it was doing it.

At OCSteve: I see your amazing predictive powers and raise them to January 4:

The regime's idea is clearly that Congressional Democrats won't be willing to cut or oppose the supplemental for fear of being thought not to "support the troops" -- no matter how bloated it is.

I wish I thought the bastards were wrong about that.

Admittedly far less detailed, but I've always known this would be the result. Like Hilzoy, I am most anguished by the failure of Democratic leadership to take this out of the "playing chicken" framework from the very beginning.

OT @jthomas: Unless it's a no-knock raid, which is rare.

Getting less rare all the time, with a mounting death toll. We're not approaching Iraqi standards of lawlessness, but we're becoming all too acclimated to paramilitary levels of "law enforcement".

Best blog coverage of this from Radley Balko.

J Thomas: I'm not clear that there's any way to tell whether it was actually iraqi security forces or not. There doesn't seem to be a lot of accountability involved.

Nope, and isn't that exactly the problem?

Oh. I thought the problem was that Iraqi troops are running wild!

Something tells me Iraqi Troops Gone Wild! would not be a best-seller...

"Something tells me Iraqi Troops Gone Wild! would not be a best-seller..."

Surely that would depend upon how much they flashed their chests.

I know there's a market for that sort of thing; you really think there's that much of a market, though?

I'm just assuming the publisher would go by the past track record of what's sold.

That's the dominant tendency in every sort of mass-market publishing, after all.

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