The war vote

Pub date May 29, 2007
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the senior senator from California, was "deeply disappointed" that the Iraq funding bill passed May 24 "fails to hold the president accountable for his flawed Iraq War policy." Or at least that’s what her official statement says. Yet like a majority of her colleagues, she voted in favor of spending another $100 billion on the war — because "it provides funding for our troops."

That’s the same line Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia used: the bill was "necessary to fund our troops who are now in harm’s way."

That, of course, is nonsense and a demonstration of how the Democratic leadership in Congress has failed to effectively confront a tottering, unpopular, lame-duck president on the most important issue facing the nation.

Let’s be real here: nobody was suggesting that the United States stop issuing paychecks to soldiers or that the money for their meals, uniforms, and ammunition be cut off. This was about politics, about who would blink first. And the Democrats gave up far too quickly.

George W. Bush had already vetoed one bill that would have tied war funding to a timetable for withdrawal. Some Democrats, including newly elected East Bay representative Jerry McNerny, argued that Congress ought to keep sending the same bill back, again and again — and tell the American people that it was Bush who was refusing to support the troops by not signing the measure. That would have set up a confrontation that sharpened the distinctions between Democrats and Republicans — and at a time when the president’s approval rating is below 30 percent and the war is immensely unpopular, it would have ultimately backfired on Bush. It would also have demonstrated to voters that the Democrats meant what they said when they made the war the central issue in the 2006 campaigns.

Instead, the party led by San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi has apparently adopted a new strategy: wait for ’08. Instead of fighting aggressively to block any further war spending, the Democrats seem willing to let the conflict drag on for another year — hoping that the situation will get so much worse that it will guarantee a Democratic victory in the presidential race.

As pure politics, that may be smart: the more body bags arrive home each week, the fewer votes any Republican gets next fall. But as a matter of policy (and basic humanity), it’s unconscionable: Thousands more will die in the next 18 months. Billions of dollars will be wasted. The time to end the war is now, and we can all worry about the political consequences later.

Pelosi, to her credit, voted against the funding bill. So did Sen. Barbara Boxer. And all the Democrats promised that they wouldn’t let the issue die. The funding only lasts through September, and in the meantime, Congress will take up any number of other efforts to set timetables for withdrawal.

But this was the big one, the bill that could have forced an early end to the war. And it’s not surprising that so many of the millions of voters and grassroots activists who helped put the Democrats in power last fall are angry. Pelosi needs to show she can really lead this party and use the constitutional power the House and Senate have to withhold funding for the war. Forget the White House: another vote like this in September, and the party will have a hard time keeping the loyalists it needs to hold on to the power it has now. *