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Monday, April 16, 2007

Just for the record...

The news lately has featured a lot of discussion about Democratic plans to attach certain provisions to future Iraq war funding bills. The provisions in question would require the U.S. to withdraw troops by some date specified in the bill itself. This is pitched as a way of executing the will of the American people despite the executive branch's clear reluctance. In response to this, President Bush has been threatening to veto any such bills that include a withdrawl provision, claiming that it would undermine morale and endanger our troops in the field as well as our efforts in Iraq. His cohort, Vice-President Dick Cheney, seems similarly resolved and has publicly claimed that Democratic leaders are "irresponsible" for their actions and that they will eventually cave, sending a funding bill to the White House that lacks the withdrawl timetable provisions. For their part, the Democrats, so far, seem undeterred by the White House's bravado.

So, what we're really dealing with here is a game of chicken played between the two U.S. political parties with our troops in Iraq and the Iraqi people in the middle. On one side we have an administration that got the country into a disastrous war for no better reason than that they could. This is not to say that Saddam Hussein wasn't a bad guy- he was- but if that was sufficient reason to invade a country our troops would never know peace. Now that battle has been joined, however, the administration sees no option but to carry through what they so hastily and foolishly began. On the other side we have an opposition party flush with recent victory struggling to impose some sort of order on what they see as a chaotic and poorly planned war that is wasting American lives and treasure. The Democrats in Congress argue that the President and his personnel lied- and they seem to have a considerable amount of evidence on their side. The President argues in turn that he has only the best interests of the troops at heart- a claim I frankly doubt- and that withdrawing now will only endanger us all further.

Now, I suspect that this is going to be a focal issue for the next presidential election and there's going to be, and has been already, a lot of stereotyping about the Democratic position on this. So, as someone who is planning to vote Democrat, let me lay out how I feel about this mess. I am unhappy with the Democratic solution. I don't really like the whole "setting a timetable" thing because, frankly, I think some of the President's points are valid. While a timetable might motivate the Iraqi government, I think it's more likely that it will simply give the rival factions warring over that country a firm date to prepare for. In a way it'll be a little like setting the start date for a messy civil war. As such, I think this course of action is almost tantamount to abandoning the country to chaos and violence. This displeases me because, honestly, I believe that once you start a job you should finish it. Rightly or wrongly we started this job and it indeed feels like we're slinking away now that it's gotten difficult. That said, continuing to try in Iraq is not without cost. It is expensive monetarily, it is wasteful of lives, and it frankly ties us down in one region when there are other places we could be and other things we should be doing. Worse, if the Democratic plan looks flawed, the Republican plan is absurd. A "troop surge"? Really? That's the best you can come up with? We're already pretty sure that won't work and all it ends up doing is tossing more lives into the gaping maw that is Iraq. I may not like the Democrats' policy here but, seriously, I see no alternatives from the Republican party that won't just end up with the same end result and more casualties along the way.

Of course, the true irony of the situation is that almost whatever happens the Republicans will probably come out ahead in some sense. If they had somehow succeeded in Iraq it would have provided legitimacy for their bizarrely skewed view of the world. While I certainly would have been pleased to see the Iraq situation turn out well the political consequences of it would have been unfortunate- if only in terms of global warming policy. At the same time, with the Iraq policy failing, Bush now has a convenient way to heap responsibility on the Democrats. "If they had given the surge a chance," he will say, "Iraq would have become a stable democracy. The failure of the Iraq war is the fault of the Democratic party!" The Republicans, whether by design or convenient happenstance, have found themselves in the position of "heads I win, tails you lose." Sadly, the price for their political strength has been paid in blood by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

And do you know what I think? Even if it harms Democratic electoral possibilities, even if it exposes them to the unfounded claim that they are "ambivalent" about terrorists, it is time to do something. Get our troops out of harm's way before we lose any more brave men and women to a war that shouldn't have begun in the first place, and can't possibly be won now. We've gone down the other road before and it's doesn't end anywhere we want to be. Even if we can see the Republican propaganda machine preparing to saddle the Democrats with responsibility for the failure of a Republican war, we should still play our part in this tragedy.

Because sometimes governing responsibly means doing the unpleasant thing and it's time that someone governed responsibly.

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