Take a deep breath. The nation has arrived at an extraordinary political moment. The Congress is about to instruct the President he should withdraw from the ongoing war. Yes, I know the fine print in the House and Senate versions has lots of wiggle room. But the congressional action is still breathtaking when you think about it, possibly without historic precedent.
I assumed it would take many months and numerous failed efforts for the new Democratic majority to reach this juncture. When House leaders kept softening their terms, I even thought it might be a good thing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lose the first time around. She would then be assailed by outraged Americans and get the message: stiffen up, this is not business as usual. I was mistaken. Many of the final details are disappointing, but the message has been delivered and received–get out of Iraq. It will rule politics until the American exit actually occurs.
Democrats did not create this new dynamic–it arose volcano-like from the American people–but Democrats have had the wisdom to embrace it. I remember the torturous struggle in the Sixties waged by congressional opponents–Republicans and Democrats–trying to end the war in Vietnam. Their first resolutions were mild and deferential, politely urging Lyndon Johnson to start negotiating for peace. They were rejected. Subsequent measures raised the ante, but it took years of frustrating failure to get Congress to speak clearly. By comparison, the shift in politics this time moved like lightning.
Democrats now have the Republicans in a political vise and will keep squeezing them. Let Bush veto whatever anti-war measure House and Senate finally produce. Let the president’s GOP troops uphold his veto. Democrats will then rally for another legislative assault on the willfully blind chief executive. Each new roll call will stick it again to the Republicans. Do they want to stand with the public’s common-sense grasp of reality? Or are they going to keep voting with the crackpot commander-in-chief and his delusional search for victory?
The guy in the bunker, unfortunately, may never get the message. That deepens the tragedy, both for America and Iraq. Each new needless death will deepen the hurt and anger. But it looks like George W. Bush will stick with denial, even as Congress keeps toughening its attempts to force withdrawal. I hope I am wrong about that, but a wise friend explained the logic of Bush’s desperation politics.
Bush and Cheney, he said, are trying to run out the clock–keep this war going until they leave office and can dump the mess on the next president, very likely a Democrat. In retirement, the Bush crowd will then begin to sow the “if only” revisionism that blames Democrats or the media or the American people for a “loss of will.” Sounds absurd now, but that is roughly what happened after the lost war in Vietnam. We could have won, “if only.” Sad to say, many Americans came to believe it, especially resentful veterans seeking explanation for why they fought and lost.
Given all he has done to this country, Bush could do something truly valuable for history by accepting the blame in a stand-up way. Admit his great errors. Acknowledge the failure. This might ensure him a tragic but noble legacy. I am afraid there is nothing noble in the man.
© 2007 The Nation