On Tuesday, December 18, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate combined to give President Bush $70 billion to carry the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into
next summer. Only 23 Democrats and one independent supported an amendment by
Senator Feingold that would have required the safe redeployment of troops from
Iraq. Here are the senators who voted to end the war:
Next summer, when the money runs out, a cutoff of funds will be unimaginable.
The election will be too close. So our troops are committed till the end of the
president's term; after all the talk, the Democrats have ended by obeying him.
This capitulation marks the climax of one of the most extraordinary displays in
history of a complex phenomenon: power wielded in the face of popular rejection,
and power surrendered in spite of overwhelming public support. A president whose
policy was disapproved by more than half of the American people chose to defy a
majority whose midterm victory he himself had called "a rout." And the
majority, saying they wished things were different, pleading the necessity of
60 rather than 50 votes, but never exacting reprisals or driving a hard bargain
against defectors from their own ranks--the majority, again and again, backed
This definitive result of the 110th Congress will confirm the popular feeling
that George W. Bush believes in his disaster more than the Democrats believe in
Some day, an inspired historian will answer the question what the Democrats of
the new majority in Congress were thinking in the months of December 2006 and
January 2007. For consider their position. The report of the Iraq Study Group
had lately told the president to pull back from Iraq; numbers of generals and
retired military officers had registered their dissent from the war (a thing
unheard-of in earlier wars); the party had on its side the good will of the
public and the suffrage of the licensed experts. And then? The Democrats sat,
and watched, and waited. They talked about their social policies. They knew if
they waited long enough, the next move on Iraq would be the president's; and
this apparently was what they wanted. They knew that his next move would be to
widen the war. They had decided by February that they would not stop him.
Those who appeared most consequential in the scene were not the real movers.
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi can hardly have carried as much weight in these
larger deliberations as Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel. Senator Clinton
outranked Senator Reid in fame, fortune, and influence; she was the apparent
candidate by acclamation for the presidential race in 2008; and her desires,
however conveyed, would count for more than those of an obscure and hesitant
lawmaker. Rahm Emanuel had taken credit for the winning election strategy of
2006. Ascending with the majority, he avoided the substantial issue of Iraq,
and addressed the need to get the best armor for the soldiers already there.
Emanuel talked about armor, and soon Pelosi was talking about armor. All the
while, on the floor of the Senate and in public speeches, Hillary Clinton gave
her best energies to free the president to go after Iran.
If the Clinton-Emanuel axis is indeed a more accurate clue to the workings of
the party than Reid-Pelosi, one may well ask what guided the accommodation of
the Bush policy through 2007 by the de facto leaders of the opposition.
The premise on which, in fact, the two parties for all their differences seem
now impressively unified, is the projection of American power in the Middle
East. Whose interest does that serve? The list is long, and the proportions
impossible to gauge. There are the oil companies (the province of Cheney and
Bush), greedy for the last of a dwindling resource. Another half-century of
profits is worth much more than a war to them. There is also Israel, with its
largely uncritical American backers, including political supporters in both
parties and financial supporters without whom the Democrats are lost (Senator
Clinton in particular). Add to these the arms industry and the security bubble
of the 2000s--from cluster bombs to retina scanners--alike dependent on the
maintenance of this war and the urgency of the next, whatever the next may be.
Four superbases, we were told in 2003, were to be built for Americans in Iraq,
but now there are five or six. As Clinton and Emanuel know, those bases are
meant to be permanent. They will not be used only to secure Iraq and intimidate
Iran, but to harry Russia by way of the friendly belt of former republics, and
to raise a bulwark against the growing power of China. The missile interceptors
we want to install in Poland and the radar station in the Czech Republic, about
which Vladimir Putin was said to be unreasonably exercised, could indeed seem,
to a suspicious eye, part of the same broad strategy. Camp Bondsteel, built on
955 acres in Kosovo, might also be supposed to make some contribution. The vice
president is not the only American who does not want the Cold War to be over.
To judge by the votes of the 110th Congress, and by what has and has not been
said on the campaign trail, some understandings are now clearly in place. The
main agreement concerns what is not to be said. If either Clinton or Obama is
the Democratic nominee, and if no new insurgency erupts, the Iraq war will drop
away completely as an issue of the presidential race in 2008. To have prophesied
this a year ago would have seemed fantastic; but the soothing indications are
already being slotted in. Baghdad is now said to be "quieter." We are shown few
pictures of American soldiers and fewer still of Iraqi civilians. The New York
Times ran its story about the $70 billion appropriations vote on page 24.
Nevertheless, December 18 will be remembered. It was the day when a thirteen-
month contract was signed, and the domestic powers told us that nothing more
could be done about this. Go back to the economy, they said, and the mortgage
crisis, and the role of religion in politics and the views of undecided voters
about gay marriage. While you are talking, the Vatican-sized embassy in Baghdad
will be completed, and the superbases will go up. The next step will have been
taken for projection of American power in the Middle East.
When did we agree to this? At what time, and in what place? The United States,
for the first time in our history, is more feared than it is trusted, and more
hated than it is feared. And the opposition does not dare to think aloud about