The Dems Did Not "Cave In"

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • Carl Jeffers Television political commentator, radio talk show host, lecturer, political analyst

It is striking to me that so many people, listeners, viewers, talk show hosts, and even commentators -- particularly those oriented on the "left," have been attacking the Democrats as having "caved in" on the war spending bill recently approved by Congress without any timetables or deadlines for withdrawing our troops from Iraq. There are "benchmarks" in the bill relating to reports to be submitted later this fall which will trigger a re-examination of our status in Iraq and re-open consideration of firm withdrawal deadlines and timetables if no measurable progress has been made by that date, but their effect is uncertain at this moment.

But essentially, the President did get a "clean" bill that did not require him to do anything differently than he has been doing for four years in his administration of this war. And yes, that does affirm the position the President asserted all along that he would not sign any bill that contained any timetables or deadlines and, in addition, he would eagerly look forward to vetoing any such bill.

It appears that many of our friends on the "left" have a bad case of "selective memory." The day after the November elections last fall, all of us were talking about the next steps the Democrats would take, and as part of that conversation, everyone acknowledged that any serious attempt to actually defund the war unless the troops were brought home by a certain date was "off the table." In other words, everyone knew that the Democrats would not irreparably damage themselves and their Party's chances in 2008 by making themselves vulnerable to the charge that they were "soft on defense, not supporting the troops, unpatriotic, and leaving our troops out there abandoned in the field." I'm not sure if I left any out as I haven't reviewed the Karl Rove playbook recently on changing the topic to make Dems and liberals appear to be unpatriotic and not supporting the troops, even if the topic might be Katrina incompetence or Republican cronyism.

The reality is that none of us expected the Democrats to move this soon or this seriously to actually attempt to force the President to revise his Iraq strategy by leveraging the "power of the purse" as a linkage to getting commitments for bringing our troops home. In fact, not only did the Democrats NOT cave in, but in reality they should be commended for standing as firmly as they did and for moving as quickly as they did (only six months after everyone agreed they wouldn't do it), to actually attempt to use funding prerogatives to try to force the President to change a strategy that has not worked and shows very little signs of potentially working. And in the process, they actually managed to pull along some Republicans as well who have far more to fear politically than does the President.

In the fall elections of last November, if you voted for the Democrats to send a message to the President that you were unhappy with the conduct of the war, unhappy with the way the country was PR manipulated to go to war without the real supportable evidence that all of our previous presidents have relied on prior to military action, unhappy with the continuation of a "stay the course" strategy when it appeared that the only option proven not to work in Iraq was staying the course, and unhappy with the President's refusal to listen to alternatives even when presented by established figures in the Republican Party, then your vote was a very informed vote that did send the message and provided a return to our constitutional government of checks and balances that would allow the people to demand more accountability from their government and its elected leaders.

That was a good vote and one that has been vindicated. Indeed, it is my conclusion that the voters who sent that message last November are now realizing that since the President still has not responded, they may have to send an even stronger message next year that results in giving the Democrats control of not only the Congress but the White House as well.

On the other hand, and this is what many on the left have been saying this past week was the motivation of their vote last November, if you voted for the Democrats because you felt that if the Democrats won the Congress they could then proceed to just end the war, stop the funding of the war, bring all of our troops home, and then commence with impeachment proceedings, your vote was not an informed vote, could never have been vindicated, and set a bar that no Party could have satisfied.

Why? Here's the bottom line. It is impossible in America to stop or end a war we are already involved in if the Commander-in-Chief (emphasis on Commander-in-Chief -- NOT President), is determined to continue to prosecute that war. Congress voted four times during Vietnam to stop funding for the war and a Democratic President found ways to continue funding the war and even escalate it. Why? Because under our Constitution, we give powers to our nation's prime leader as Commander-in-Chief that are extraordinary and almost irrevocable once he or she has been able to successfully commit us to war. Controlling just Congress without controlling the White House was never going to enable Democrats to end the war or force the Commander-in-Chief to change strategy even with defunding threats unless or until the Commander-in-Chief, in his role as President, decided that the political message of disapproval from his constituents was too strong to ignore or the political damage to his Party or his re-election chances were too great to continue to "stay the course."

But you missed your chance to have this effect when you re-elected the President in 2004 as an affirmation of that very same Iraq strategy that everyone now condemns. No -- unless in his role as President, George Bush decided that it was time to change the strategy and begin a systematic wind down of the war, if he felt in his role as Commander-in-Chief that he was going to continue to prosecute the war in the manner he thought best regardless of the message the voters sent, then there was NOT going to be a bill passed and signed that linked further funding of the war with timetables or deadlines for withdrawing our troops.

And that's what we have now. But since no one expected the Democrats to move this decisively or this quickly on proposals to actually restrict war funding based on certain benchmarks and timetables, then we must praise them for their boldness in moving forward, not condemn them for caving in.

This has been an important step in the long term process of changing our course in Iraq, and what we may find as time moves forward is that in winning this political skirmish, the President has won a major battle, but with the message voters are likely to send in November 2008, he and his Party may have lost the war!