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Democrats Must Be Bold And Stop Surge

This column was written by Ari Berman
White House press secretary Tony Snow is right about one thing: Democratic resolutions on Iraq may be non-binding, but the war -- and now its escalation -- is "very real."

Just because the Bush Administration is out of touch with reality doesn't mean that Democratic leaders should react in kind. Many high-ranking Democrats seem to believe that a symbolic Congressional vote against Bush's escalation of the occupation will be enough to change the President's mind. "If you really want to change the situation on the ground, demonstrate to the president he's on his own," Senator Joe Biden told the New York Times. "That will spark real change."

Not likely -- even if a significant number of Republicans vote against escalation. Bush is already on his own. Upwards of 80 percent of Americans -- and more than half of the military, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- oppose sending more troops to Iraq. The president has no intention of governing by consensus. Just ask his father's best friend, James Baker. Bush's idea of bipartisanship, as his speech tonight made clear, consists of talking to Joe Lieberman.

His admission last March that future Presidents will decide when to withdraw US troops from Iraq was no slip. The only way Bush will listen to the Congress is if they force him to, by refusing to provide the money or the manpower to escalate the war.

Jack Murtha get this. So does Ted Kennedy. As he said yesterday at the National Press Club: "We campaigned as Democrats in 2006. And we must govern as Democrats in 2007. We have the solemn obligation now to show the American people that we heard their voices. We will stand with them in meeting the extraordinary challenges of our day — not with pale actions, timid gestures, and empty rhetoric, but with bold vision, clear action, and high ideals that match the hopes and dreams of the American people. That is our duty as Democrats and as Americans on the war in Iraq."

In the Democratic response to Bush, Senator Dick Durbin hinted at Congressional action beyond passing a non-binding resolution. "I believe we need to go beyond that," Senator Barack Obama said tonight. The logical next step is legislation introduced by Kennedy and Rep. Marty Meehan, which simply and effectively states that "no funds can be spent to send additional troops to Iraq unless Congress approves the President's proposed escalation of American forces." Presidential candidates John Edward and Tom Vilsack have endorsed such an approach.

Criticism alone will not be enough to stop the President in this instance. In an important post, blogger Chris Bowers likens the coming fight over escalation to the 2005 battle to save Social Security. "In the Social Security fight, Democrats ended up looking like heroes not just because they weren't those evil Republicans who tried to destroy Social Security," Bowers writes, "but rather because Democrats were those stalwart fighters who prevented Republicans from destroying Social Security."

The difference between then and now is that in 2005 Bush claimed "political capital" -- at least briefly. After a year of ineptness by the President, Democrats won in '06 precisely because voters wanted them to keep Bush's powers in check, particularly on Iraq. "We [Democrats] were swept into office," Bowers writes, "not just because we voiced support for withdrawal or opposition to Bush's policies, but with the expectation that we could stop Bush's policy."

A large majority of Americans in a recent CBS News Poll want and expect Democrats in Congress to try and decrease or remove all US troops from Iraq. But 82 percent of those polled say Congressional Democrats have still not developed a "clear plan" for resolving the conflict. Blocking Bush's escalation will go a long way toward convincing skeptical Americans that Democrats have an idea about how to end the war.
By Ari Berman
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation