04/26/2007 07:16 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

You've Got to Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em: The Nevadan Has A Stronger Hand Than The Texan When It Comes to Plan B

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: "For the first time, the president will have to face up, will have to be accountable for this war in Iraq. And he doesn't want to face that reality."

The House and the Senate are forcing a showdown on the war in Iraq, and boxing President Bush in, by calling him out on his self-imposed vow to cast only the second veto of his presidency when the legislation containing both supplemental defense funds and binding troop withdrawal timetables reaches his desk. He will be hoisted on his own petard. For this time he will not be able to get away with an extra-constitutional unitary executive "signing statement" in which he says I will take the money but ignore the policy or strategy to which it is attached.

However, even though the White House may have no plan for what happens when the "surge" fails in Iraq, the Democratic Congress will still be saddled with accountability for failing to force withdrawal of American combat troops--after the President vetoes the defense appropriations bill. Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid must realistically face the responsibility for having a Plan B.

The president and Republicans in Congress should be offered a deal: the Democratic leadership will pass a "clean" defense supplemental appropriations bill, without withdrawal dates, IN EXCHANGE FOR a binding agreement that Senate Republicans will not filibuster a separate bill that includes withdrawal deadlines--and not just "benchmarks"--as policy and strategy. The Democrats in both houses would then pass binding legislation calling for firm withdrawal date(s), the President would veto it, and then the Republicans in Congress could choose to uphold the veto by preventing a two-thirds override vote. The Democrats will have done all they can, for now, to remove most American combat troops from the war.

And the Republican Representatives and Senators--up for re-election in 2008--who vote against pulling them out will have more tightly wrapped around their collective neck the albatross of the worst foreign policy disaster since WW II. It would become plain as day that it is, uniquely, President Bush's war. "With the bark off," Sen. Reid has profoundly and sensitively pointed out that the president is trying to save his "legacy."

Of course, this plan would not satisfy those groups calling for shutting down the American military occupation of Iraq, immediately. But the fact is that the votes are not there--in the House, let alone the Senate--to refuse to appropriate money for the troops in the hope that Bush would then be forced to withdraw.

Indeed, since the president could invoke several precedents and ploys to enable him to continue funding the troops on the battlefield of war, specific withdrawal timetables (not as "goals" but as directives) may be a more effective method to turn up the heat on a politically crippled, incompetent, intellectually spent, lame-duck presidency. I would rather continue to drive the debate against the war "in the arena" of the press and public opinion, than to pass a cutoff of funds that would wind up as a constitutional law case before the Roberts Supreme Court. Each branch can mobilize its "divisions," or checks and balances. Our government is not founded so much on a separation of powers as it is on separated institutions sharing powers--as Richard Neustadt taught me decades ago.

As the Bush presidency continues to implode and the military imagination to fail in salvaging even a draw in Iraq, PERHAPS the time will come when the war will be defunded. But we are not there, yet. And, if that were to happen too soon before the "surge" has time to play out, the fallout from the withdrawal would be too easily blamed on the Democrats--and the media.

It appears that the White House is counting on the next president (of whatever party) to have to execute the withdrawal, accompanied by the inevitable terrible consequences.

This historical "out" must be denied President Bush and Vice President Cheney.