Victory or Death - Lots of It

This story raises an interesting point. If you are against the Iraq war, and especially if you are a member of Congress, what can you do about it? Republicans from the president on down insist they aren't "questioning the patriotism" of war opponents, and they claim to recognize that Congress has at least some role in the decisions. Follow the arguments through, however, and it's clear there is not as much flexibility as they claim.

Last month, for example, the president vetoed a war-funding bill because it contained benchmarks that could have begun the process of withdrawal from Iraq. He later signed another version without the timetables. The White House position seems to be that, having authorized military force, Congress is now obligated to provide unlimited funding for an unlimited length of time until the president concludes that the war is over.

Strategically, of course, it is not a good idea to announce your intention to withdraw from combat on some particular date in the future. On the other hand, sometimes retreat is the best strategy. On such occasions it has to be executed somehow. In the current situation, I'm sure the generals can figure out a way to make it happen with at least as much order and security as are involved in not retreating.

Republican critics taunt the Democrats for being unwilling to use their "power of the purse" to end the war. Does anyone really believe that if the Democrats actually tried to cut off the war funding, the Republicans would just throw up their hands and say "Fair enough, you can do that?" Nonsense.

Consider the last time something similar happened. In the 1980s Reagan wanted to support insurgents in Nicaragua. Congress would not appropriate funds for this purpose. What happened? They found money elsewhere - by selling weapons to Iran and then directing the profits to the Nicaraguan Contras. The resulting "Iran-Contra" scandal made Oliver North famous. Conservative pundits back then were uniformly in favor of this end-run around Congress. Want to bet they won't try it again?

So here is the bottom line of current White House/GOP logic:

  • First, the president can invade other countries whenever he wishes. Hopefully Congress will agree, but the president doesn't need their permission.
  • Second, Congress is obliged to provide funding for any and all war purposes the president defines. This obligation is unlimited and permanent. If they refuse, they are unpatriotic and don't care about the troops.
  • Third, any war we begin must be prosecuted to the bitter end. Nothing less than complete victory is acceptable. This is true even if the majority of the American people want the war to end. We will spend as much money and lose as many lives as it takes to win.
Is this really the kind of power we want presidents to have? Keep in mind that you are giving it not only to Bush but to all future presidents. Hillary Clinton, for example, will get the same privileges if she moves back into the White House. Ditto Barack Obama, John Edwards, and anyone else you are to have nightmares about.

Of course, the fact of the matter is that "victory" is sometimes impossible to achieve. Such is the case in Iraq right now, in my opinion. The U.S. simply does not have the forces necessary to secure a lasting peace in that country. Bush has deluded himself into thinking that we are winning no matter what happens. He's reportedly said he is arranging affairs so his successor will have no choice but to continue the war and achieve "our country's destiny."

At some point, even the most hawkish Republicans will have had enough. We are going to withdraw from Iraq; the only question is when. We can keep on losing young soldiers and Marines by the dozens - or we can make the best of a bad situation and end it now.

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