- Jan 20, 2006
- Reaction score
- New Orleans, LA/Cambridge, MA
The Economist said:IF OPPOSITION really were true friendship, as the poet William Blake averred, then George Bush would be a very popular man. Last week the House of Representatives in effect refused to give the president the money he needs to conduct his surge in Iraq by attaching to his request for a supplementary allocation of $124 billion the condition that all American troops be out of Iraq 17 months from now. Now the Senate looks close to demanding that the troops leave within a year (see article). The two versions must be harmonised before they reach the president's desk (and his veto); but the Democrats' manoeuvres amount to the most powerful assault on the president's power to wage war since the Case-Church amendment prohibited all further engagement in Vietnam in 1973. The Iraq war has truly reached Pennsylvania Avenue.
Nor is it the only battle being waged there. The Democrats are seeking to subpoena Mr Bush's closest aide, Karl Rove, to face a grilling over allegations that he masterminded the sacking of eight government prosecutors for political reasons. They are also hell-bent on forcing the resignation of another close ally, the attorney-general, Alberto Gonzales, over the same issue. Besides all that, they have laid down a long list of conditions before they will consider either approving four free-trade deals already in the pipeline or renewing the president's fast-track authority to get such bills approved, which expires at the end of June. The noble talk last November by both Mr Bush and the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, of a new era of bipartisan co-operation has given way to peevishness, muscle-flexing and political violence.
Many people will rejoice at the sight of a besieged White House and Mr Bush and Dick Cheney ducking for cover. But regardless of what you think about this most inept of presidencies, the current civil war in Washington has the making of a tragedyboth for America and for millions of people around the globe. For example, the Doha trade round, with which so many Democrats are keen to play politics, could lift millions of the world's most wretched inhabitants out of poverty. At home, there is a huge amount president and Congress could and should collaborate on, from immigration reform to the care of the elderly. For such huge gains to be sacrificed, voters will surely demand good reasons.
Carry on overseeing, Congress
There are in fact two big issues behind most of the politicking: executive privilege and Iraq. On the matter of the White House's powers, Mr Rove, Mr Gonzales and the prosecutors, it is possible to have sympathy for the Democrats' position. Mr Gonzales is a worthy target for political skirmishers: had he an ounce of integrity, he would have resigned long ago for his role in commissioning a memorandum that amounted to a legal defence of torture. And the treatment of the prosecutors is certainly worth fighting over. Though it is true that government prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president, there is evidence that at least some of those fired were excellent public servants who were removed because they refused to submit to improper pressure in political cases.
This is exactly the sort of thing that Congress is supposed to keep an eye on. It was, more than anything, the failure of the previous Republican Congress to hold the executive to account that most merited its ejection by the voters last year. Mr Bush and particularly Mr Cheney have used their time in office to expand presidential authority relentlessly. The president is co-operating only minimally, and grudgingly, with the investigation. He has no one to blame but himself if Congress is now minded to push back.
But hands off Iraq
The battle over Iraq, though, is much more serious. And it looks very much as though the Democrats have over-reached themselves. Even from a short-term political perspective, their logic seems questionable. Yes, Ms Pelosi has at her back a large group of strongly anti-war congressmen; and, yes, the war is deeply unpopular. But, by cutting off money, the Democrats lay themselves open to the charge that they are damaging the morale and perhaps even the capabilities of troops in the field. It seems particularly perverse to be doing this only two months after the Senate unanimously confirmed the appointment to the command of American forces in Iraq of General David Petraeus, an impressive officer who believes that the surge is showing signs of working. This contradiction will surely be used against the Democrats by their opponents.
But the domestic American politics of a withdrawal date areor should bea secondary issue. The only question that should count is this: does a deadline make sense? The desire to impose an end to America's involvement in Iraq, so costly in blood and treasure, is understandable. The Democrats fear a war without end, because they think that Mr Bush is incapable of ever acknowledging that his strategy has failed and bringing his defeated troops home. They also believe that a deadline could have the advantage of forcing the predominantly Shia Iraqi government into much greater efforts, both in beefing up its own security capabilities and in reaching out to the alienated and dangerous Sunni minority.
Both of these arguments have some merit. But the first of them ignores the possibility, which it is too early to discount, that the surge strategy may actually start to show results, enabling Mr Bush to begin a withdrawal in his own time from a position of relative advantage. And the second is a gamble. Announcing a deadline may very well concentrate minds in Baghdad. But it could just encourage the Shias to step up their onslaught on the Sunni insurgentsand on Sunnis in general.
Sooner or later, America will leave Iraq. But it is essential that it leaves in the right way. If Mr Bush is seen to be forced out by politics at home, America's ability to influence events both inside Iraq and in the wider region will be greatly undermined. That could lead to a dreadful outcome in Iraq, make Iran bolder in pursuit of its nuclear ambitions and delight anti-Americans everywhere. If the Democrats are wise, they will not want that on their record.