Washington's Epic Battle, War or Peace
Editor's Note: Faster than many political observers expected, the Democratic-controlled Congress is moving to challenge George W. Bush's war policies, a battle that will likely start with a non-binding "sense of Congress" resolution opposing his plan to send another 21,500 U.S. troops into Iraq.
While some anti-war activists have criticized the move as "only symbolic," political analyst Brent Budowsky argues, in this guest essay, that the resolution will force members of Congress to choose sides and thus will lay the groundwork for future battles:
With the Democratic Congress only days old, an epic battle is unfolding in Washington with great dangers, enormous consequences and a historic opportunity.
Let's review the playing field, which is often mischaracterized on the television news.
First, there is an unfolding Democratic strategy to halt the escalation of the war in Iraq as proposed by President Bush's speech in open defiance of the voters' will as expressed in the 2006 election.
Second, there is a raging battle behid the scenes pitting advocates of a preemptive attack against Iran, led by the same civilian neoconservatives who advocated the Iraq War, against critics who view such an attack as catastrophically dangerous. These opponents of a new preemptive war include many in the military and intelligence worlds in the United States and Israel.
Third, there is a grand constitutional battle that will soon be front-page news, pitting those who claim that the President possesses unilateral power to initiate preemptive war against those who argue that it is illegal and unconstitutional for the President to wage new wars without prior congressional approval.
While these battles superficially resemble the Washington kabuki play that preceded the Iraq War in 2002-03, there are two big differences that work to George Bush's great disadvantage and may result in a different outcome.
The Democrats won the 2006 election, creating Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and public approval of Bush has fallen to historically low levels. This time, Democrats have real institutional power, and opponents of Bush's policy have the overwhelming support of voters.
Also, the U.S. news media has underestimated the implication of one key fact. In 2008, there are 21 Republican senators up for reelection while only 12 Democratic seats are up for grabs. Having so many Republican seats up for reelection is a historical rarity that creates the possibility of gigantic Democratic gains in the Senate in 2008.
Senate Republicans face this numerical danger while President Bush is facing a collapse of both his credibility and popularity, while his policies fare no better. Senate Republicans know that if they follow Bush as he escalates the war in Iraq and as he initiates a new war against Iran, the odds rise for a Republican disaster in 2008.
That is the game changer.
It's also important to fully understand the legislative strategy of Democrats as they oppose the Bush escalation in Iraq. In summary it is this:
The Democrats opened the new Congress with an immediate volley -- almost universal and unequivocal opposition to the Bush Iraq "surge." That will be followed by the first legislative shot, a vote offered by Democrats on a non-binding "sense of Congress" resolution opposing the escalation. Meanwhile, the Democrats are considering other options including a possible fund cutoff.
The "sense of Congress" resolution has been falsely called "symbolic." In fact, it could be powerful, because it presents congressional Republicans with no escape from going on the record for, or against, the Bush escalation. It has already prompted a growing number of Republicans to oppose the escalation, ranging from Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who called the Bush speech the biggest mistake since Vietnam, to Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a conservative leader and a surprising addition to the anti-escalation ranks.
Many Republicans privately have long thought Bush's Iraq policy was dangerously wrong but have lacked the courage and conviction to take him on. Now, with the resolution, they have only two choices. They can oppose the President's policy on the record or they can anger the voters back home and support Bush's "surge," increasing the odds of Republican defeats in 2008.
George Bush may be safe in treating the voters with contempt and arrogance, but many Republican senators must face the wrath of the voters in two years. Increasingly they view George Bush as the new Republican Herbert Hoover, the kiss of political death, which is why a growing number of Republicans are lining up against the President's escalation.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have new opportunities. Not only do they control the Congress, but they represent the overwhelming will of the people as expressed in the November elections and in opinion polls. Democrats also plan investigations to expose six years of Bush administration wrongdoing.
Congressional Republicans, whipped in the last election, are now left holding the bag for Bush and knowing the President's actions can destroy them in the next election.
Every time George W. Bush arrogantly shows contempt for the voters and the popular will, the motivation for congressional Republicans to oppose Bush goes up and their support for Bush war escalation goes down.
Senate Republican Mitch McConnell is threatening to filibuster the Democratic "sense of Congress" resolution, but that only creates more pain for Senate Republicans. Do they really want to spend a week explaining why they support the Bush escalation?
The tectonic plates of Washington have shifted in powerful and historic ways. All across the country Americans are aggressively pushing for an end to the escalation, an end to war fever, an end to the arrogance of power from a failed President who defies the will of the people and claims to be above the law.
After only one week of a Democratic Congress, the battle lines have permanently shifted and stories increasingly report "The President Stands Alone".
The "sense of the Congress" vote will lead to other harder, stronger votes with those who oppose Bush's policy on the offensive with every new challenge, every new investigation, every new battle.
The greatest and gravest danger is that a desperate and isolated President with lame-duck status, a failed policy, no credibility, support collapsing to historic lows, and congressional Republicans who increasingly see him as a deadly danger might lash out with a new war against Iran.
There is real danger here. The President has created hair-trigger tensions throughout a Middle East that is already a cauldron that seethes with chaos and carnage. Any form of preemptive attack against Iran or any other country could explode into a cascading war that could engulf the entire region.
This is why many military and intelligence people oppose both the Iraq escalation and the war drums on Iran. This is why many Republicans are privately terrified by what Bush did to them in 2006 and could do in 2008.
This is why emboldened Democrats are increasing the pressure on multiple fronts. The next great battle will be to make it clear that no President, especially this one, has the unilateral power to rampage around the world seeking wars to fight.
In the coming days, the first battle over the "sense of Congress" resolution will lead to stronger measures against Bush's Iraq escalation; stronger measures to prevent new wars; and stronger enforcement of war powers that will seek to end the unilateralism and war-fever policies that have done far too much damage and were rejected in the last election.
The playing field has changed; the pressure is mounting; the challenge to the policy is widening; the people are reclaiming the power; and the epic battle of war and peace has finally begun in earnest.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen on intelligence issues, and served as Legislative Director to Rep. Bill Alexander when he was Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Leadership. Budowsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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