By JOHN HALL
Media General News Service
November 22, 2005
Passed by the Senate 79 to 19 last Tuesday, the Senate's new plan on Iraq was cast as a shot across the bow at the Bush administration's handling of the war. But it is hard to see it as criticism when the White House embraced it and its terms are inconsequential and slippery.
The goal next year would be "creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq." That could mean most anything.
The one solid requirement in this measure is that the Pentagon produce quarterly reports on the war. A requirement for the administration to set dates for a phased withdrawal of American troops was dropped.
Nonetheless, Senate Democratic leaders treated this as a turning point in which both parties have now solemnly joined to insist on a clear Iraqi strategy. Why they have chosen to say this is a mystery, since the plan, stripped of its payoff clause, contains nothing to merit such a description.
The road to the Vietnam War was paved with congressional resolutions that had no force or effect. They were cruel delusions. Not until funds were barred for combat in, over and off the shores of Vietnam did the war end.
Neither al Qaeda nor those at home hoping for an early exit from Iraq ought to read anything into this measure except what it is - a run for political cover. Members of Congress of both parties who voted for the war are under heavy pressure from constituents who have turned against it as the death toll rises.
A few Republicans saw the Iraq bill as a way to put some distance between themselves and the administration. And some Democrats who supported the war saw it as a way to erase memories of their record.
The Republican leadership claimed they had thwarted a Democratic rebellion.
The politics surrounding this vote was thick.
Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld had been on the Hill goading Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Gore, for changing their tunes. He noted they had predicted former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would acquire weapons of mass destruction unless checked. And Rumsfeld wondered what happened to the Democrats who were offering congressional resolutions demanding regime change in Iraq back in 1998 and 2002.
The Democrats sent out word that their fingers and legs were crossed at the time. Clinton and Gore weren't talking about invading Iraq, just containing Hussein, and the resolutions had escape clauses that didn't authorize an actual invasion of Iraq.
The hope was to kill Hussein on the cheap, by air or by U.S. supported exiles infiltrating Iraq. It was the Bush administration that provided the intelligence and the leadership that got the country into the war. Congress provided the votes, including some Democratic votes.
Some Democrats, like former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, are stepping forward now and admitting that their votes in favor of the war were a mistake but pleading that they were misled by the Bush administration.
Right now, the public doesn't seem happy with anyone.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called last week's vote on Iraq a "vote of no confidence in the administration's policies" while Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said it was an "absolute repudiation" of the Democrats' demand for a withdrawal plan that would give insurgents and al Qaeda a date certain for them to prey on the Iraqis.
If you believe both leaders, everyone has been kicked in the pants. Maybe they're on to something. But that's too cynical.
On the overall defense bill, the Senate stood up on the issue of treatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, an issue that is not necessarily popular. The administration still has its back up about this. But establishing strict guidelines for interrogation of suspected terrorists, a bill sponsored by the former Vietnam prisoner of war, Sen. John McCain, went through and could be headed for a big fight in conference with the House.