03 March 2007

It's The War, Stupid.

Speaker of the United States House Nancy Pelosi spoke at the Colorado Democratic Party's annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner this evening. There were a record 1900 or so Democrats in attendance, at one of the most smoothly run events of its kind in party history.

Her speech opened with extensive local color (today, it so happens is the anniversary of passage of the law that made Colorado a state), and recognition for the Colorado delegation of Democrats in Congress in connection with the accomplishments of the first 100 hours of the session.

But, the core of her speech was about Congressional opposition to the Iraq War. She hammered on this issue at length. She noted that bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress support the troops, but oppose escalation in Iraq. She noted that the Bush administration is deploying troops without the training they need to succeed in Iraq and is treating veterans poorly when they come home. She noted that the President has ignored the advice of his own generals regarding the need for stronger regional diplomacy to address the underlying causes of the conflict in Iraq. She noted that the President is not paying attention to the war in Afghanistan and that the generals there say that there is a real risk that al-Quedda and the Taliban will regain power there. She set forth an alternative plan for Iraq involving a shift first towards missions like training Iraqi soldiers and force protection, with an ultimate goal of prompt withdrawal. She made the case that our current involvement in the Iraq war is not making us safer, is not advancing our values, and is not improving the situation. In her view, Iraq is an obstacle preventing the nation from addressing the real threat it faces, which is terrorism.

My summary is not a quotation, or even made from written notes. But, the point is that Nancy Pelosi's speech focused, outside local niceties, almost entirely on the issue of the twin wars the nation is engaged in right now. She made absolutely clear that this was an issue that she understood well and at a sophisticated level, that the President was royally screwing up (and by implication doesn't appear to understand the wars very well), and that Democrats in Congress were working hard to change the situation.

These are strong words from someone who holds the power of the purse in her first political speech since being elevated to her positition as Speaker. But, she can afford to use strong words. Her position has majority support in both houses of Congress. There is near consensus within the Democratic party that the war in Iraq was and continues to be a horrible mistake. This is likewise a view that has 2-1 support in the general population in polls. Opposition to the Iraq War, along with disgust at Republican corruption, put Democrats in power in 2006. Pelosi knows this better than anyone and has kept her eyes on the prize.

Institutionally, it is hard for Congress to end a war without some sort of capitulation on the part of the President to its demands. Cutting Defense Department funding is a blunt instrument for those who really do care about the troops, but want a war to end. Congress is ill suited to dictate strategy without executive branch cooperation. But, Pelosi is hammering away at this issue, almost exclusively, for the very simple reason that it is one of the very most important issues facing the country, and the President couldn't be more wrong about it.

The barbarians are at the White House gates. It is only a matter of time before it becomes manifestly clear to the President that the situation in Washington D.C. has changed. The administration is still in denial. And, Congress, the 100 hours stunt notwithstanding, is not a particularly expeditious institution. But, it is starting to collapse. In the four months since the 2006 elections, the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of the Army have been removed, and a new team of generals has been put in charge of Iraq. But, Bush missed his chance to redeem himself when he decided to ignore the recommendations of his own hand picked Iraq Study Group.

Bush does not have the political power to carry out a unilateral plan on dealing with Iraq. He has already received a stern warning from Congress in the form of its non-binding resolution on the Iraq escalation, which he ignored. Bush is now about to face a stern "no," now that the adults are in charge in Congress, in the form of the budget resolution which has been adopted by Congress.

John McCain, meanwhile, a front runner in the 2008 GOP Presidential nomination race, a race left open by the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney is the singularly least popular politician in the United States and too old to boot, has committed political suicide by hitching his political star very publicly to the unpopular Bush escalation plan, and an Iraq War that cannot be won.

No comments: