Democrats will spend the next 24 hours acting out what their staffers have referred to as a “publicity stunt.”
For people who might be scratching their heads, a little background. Yesterday Republicans asked that a 60-vote threshold be used for a vote on the Levin Amendment to the defense-authorization bill. The Levin Amendment is a controversial proposal calling for withdrawal from Iraq by April, and the standard procedure for amendments like it has always been the 60-vote threshold. As the Democratic majority leader said earlier this year: “In the Senate it’s always been the case you need 60 votes.”
So why the theatrics? Democrats are feeling the heat from the antiwar base that gave them the majority in both Houses of Congress last November.
Meanwhile, President Bush offered his own change of course. He announced a new Iraq strategy in January to deploy several additional brigades to Baghdad and battalions to Anbar province. By securing the capital, he said, American and allied troops would have a good shot at tamping down sectarian violence and creating the conditions for political progress that everyone says are needed to create stability in Iraq. The president chose General David Petraeus to lead the mission, and Senate Democrats confirmed him by a unanimous vote.
The president’s new plan was devised in consultation with America’s top military commanders in Iraq and the Iraqi prime minister. And it had the backing of a co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, James Baker, who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January that they should give the strategy a shot: “The general that you confirmed the other day, 81 to nothing, this is his idea,” Baker said of General Petraeus. “He’s the supporter of it. He’s now the commander on the ground in Iraq. Give it a chance.”
Yet despite this plea, Senate Democrats declared the surge a failure before it began. Senator Barack Obama spoke for many in his caucus when he said in January, “The president’s strategy will not work.” So it surprised no one that soon after confirming General Petraeus, Democrats repeatedly tried to pass a bill that would have limited the General’s mission. Their only claim to success was a bill that funded the mission they claimed to oppose. And even that took more than three months to pass before being vetoed by the president because of language that set a date for withdrawal.
In response to the veto, Democrats resubmitted the vetoed funding bill without the timeline, infuriating their antiwar base and setting up this week’s debate — and the threat of a bad Jimmy Stewart impersonation. Not coincidentally, today’s stunt was announced in conjunction with an antiwar protest on the Capitol grounds.
The real question, of course, is not who’s in the driver’s seat of the Democratic strategy for Iraq. It’s why Democrats would allow themselves to pull a self-described publicity stunt like this in the first place on an issue as serious as the war. Democrats seem to have forgotten that they voted 80 to 14 to give General Petraeus until September to report on the strategy they sent him to Iraq to complete. That was the framework we agreed to, and signed into law, for the conduct of this debate. But then, they voted to send General Petraeus to Iraq even as they declared his mission a failure.
Our troops and our top military commander deserve better. At the very least they should be able to expect that we will stick with our pledge to give General Petraeus until September to report back on progress and the law which a majority of the Senate voted for in May.
This war, and its potential consequences, are too serious for anything less. Our enemies aren’t threatened by talk-a-thons, and our troops deserve better than publicity stunts.