Friday, February 02, 2007

No, No, No, No: Wyden Gives Smith Cover on Iraq

Open message to Congress, particularly Senator Ron Wyden: I apologize for seeming impatient. I understand one does not snap their fingers and end a war, especially when the person nominally in charge has no intention of ending it. But I am impatient because the flags are at half staff yet again, and the Governor has another funeral on the schedule. And I am impatient because my kids are funding every sick, demoralizing day of this off-the-books war. You volunteered for this job, and there is literally no one else in the country who has any power whatsoever to stop it. So pretty please, let's get a goddam move on, OK?
Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Patty Murray of Washington state said Thursday they would back a measure advanced by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and a group of lawmakers from both parties. It says the Senate "disagrees with the 'plan' to augment our forces by 21,500," and urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives.

The resolution is likely to pose a threat to the White House because of its expected appeal to Republicans who have grown tired of the nearly four-year war and want a chance to express their concerns. The president has been hoping to avoid an overwhelming congressional vote criticizing his handling of the war.

Smith's spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said the senator "has been helping forge a middle ground in the Senate, and he believes this resolution sends a strong and responsible message that the status quo in Iraq is unacceptable."

Wyden, meanwhile, said late Thursday that momentum for the bipartisan resolution was building.

"It seems to me if passed, this would be a very significant, almost stunning bipartisan rejection of the president's plan for a surge," Wyden said.

Once the resolution is passed, Wyden said he hopes senators will also vote for a stronger measure to deny funding for additional troops to be sent to Iraq.

"When there are troops in Iraq with boots on the ground, I'm going to make sure they are funded with adequate equipment, armor and support," Wyden said. "But if they have not been into Iraq, I am going to cut off money to put them in harm's way, which is what the surge is all about."
There are so many things wrong with this I'm not sure where to begin. You can start with the phrase "The resolution is likely to pose a threat to the White House" being about as likely as Prince coaching the 2nd half for the Colts on Sunday.

I actually believe that a firm non-binding resolution is the proper first step. Although the current placeholder certainly doesn't deserve it, respect for the Office of The President does probably demand a show of hands for that first warning shot across its bow. But putting aside Warner's weak and even encouraging "rebuke" of the President's idea, it's ludicrous to think this will move George Bush one iota away from the decision. It's made, it's done, people have been arriving for days to weeks now.

So what the hell is Wyden talking about? "It seems to me if passed, this would be a very significant, almost stunning bipartisan rejection of the president's plan for a surge." That it should even be stunning to see significant bipartisan rejection of his plan, is an indictment of the value of bipartisanship in the first place.

Look: it's a worthy goal in the main, but this is the LAST issue over which the Democrats should worry about what the Republicans think. When was the last time the Republican caucus took a position of moral or financial credibility on Iraq? Trying to drag Republicans along by submitting to their empirically lousy advice--my God, what's the point? If the Democrats locked down Congress tomorrow and literally forced the end of direct combat in Iraq, would we have them locked up or throw a parade?

It's a weaselly statement of "disagreement," which is entirely not the point anyway. It's not in the nation's best interest, a phrase which was specifically excised for the John Warner "We Don't Like the Plan Either, But We're Less Mad About it And This May Give You An Out Because it Sounds so Dithering" Plan that Smith and Wyden will support. If you can't even admit that it's not in our interests, how can you honestly say you support the premise of the bill?

Russell Feingold was right on to attack the vulnerabilities of the Warner bill, and warn that it dangerously resembles a re-authorization of war without timetables, and at worst gives approval for troop strength increases in Anbar if not Baghdad. It fails to make any case whatsoever for withdrawal. Why is Wyden getting tacked to the left on this war by Barack Obama?

And the worst part is the rationale he gives--that it's OK to support this bill because it leaves us open to cut funds later. Somehow this salient fact doesn't seem to have penetrated the general consciousness, although a few members--Darlene Hooley, in point of fact--have figured it out: the big appropriations bill that recently passed is plenty to pay for most of what Bush wants to put over there. Whatever's left can be siphoned off the supplemental in March, when the Democrats seem to think they'll be able to pounce.

Newsflash, most of the troops will already be there by then, I guarantee it. The details of what is and isn't "new troops"-related will be impossible to distinguish. Christ, we've simply lost what--$9 billion over there? You could finesse that much out of the budget in an afternoon, likely. So this whole "cut off the funding" gambit for wavering patriots is going to leave Congress with a fistful of air trying to capture real control of this surge. And by that time the flags will have changed their staff a few more times, and the money will have burned before it could even be printed.

Do we need to hold another election? Do the Democrats need another validation, another big wink and a nudge that it's OK to do something about this clusterflock of a war? Have they run out of Moxie Juice already? Tell us what you need to hear before taking affirmative control of this response, and we will shout it into your phones, badger your press people with it, and write angry demanding blog posts like this one so that you feel safely directed again.

The Warner bill is clearly the bill Henry Reid wants the party to coalesce around, and apparently Wyden wants to be the good soldier and sees the bill with the potential for the biggest number as the one to vote for. But on THE major issue to hang around Gordon Smith's neck in 2008, he just laid a sloppy kiss on Smith's behind. Ron Wyden has few peers in the Senate for voting against the original authorization. That is golden coin of the realm, and to support this flaccid noodle of a meaningless half-step equivocation of a bill WITH Smith, just hands him some of the bling for nothing. How does one attack him solidly on his war stance now? "I voted yes on the major bipartisan bill rejecting the President's did my colleague across the aisle, RON WYDEN." Psssshhhhhhht goes the air out of that balloon. Maybe the craven political angle is the least of the evils here, but it's still plenty frustrating.

This is exactly Gordon Smith's kind of bill. It looks moderate. It's not overly critical of Dear Leader, it takes a popular stand and buries it in a lexical mush until you can't tell what it looks like, and it has no ultimate bearing of change or progress attached to it whatsoever. It's a tea cozy bill--aesthetic, limited in use, usually a piece of crap that eventually catches fire and then you look at it and wonder, "Why did I have this ugly ass thing on my teakettle in the first place?"

Why Wyden is huddling for companionship with Mr. Tea Cozy on matters of Iraq is a question I bewilderedly asked spokesman Geoff Stuckart; the best answer I've gotten so far is "the Senator is also a sponsor of Senator Kennedy's bill," the one requiring a re-AUMF for escalation. That one better get fired up quickly, as I said, or the train will be long from the station.

Kennedy's bill is actually on the right track however, and you know there's no assailing Wyden's own credibility on the war. It's not that he's not credible here; he's just wrong and poorly focused in my opinion. But when it's life or death for Oregonians, that's not a luxury I think we can afford for very long. Step it up.