Our Troops Are Bush’s Hostages

Paul Krugman says President Bush is holding our troops hostage.

There are two ways to describe the confrontation between Congress and the Bush administration over funding for the Iraq surge. You can pretend that it’s a normal political dispute. Or you can see it for what it really is: a hostage situation, in which a beleaguered President Bush, barricaded in the White House, is threatening dire consequences for innocent bystanders — the troops — if his demands aren’t met. …

… Mr. Bush isn’t really trying to win the argument on the merits. He’s just betting that the people outside the barricade care more than he does about the fate of those innocent bystanders.

This is an outstanding column that I urge you to read all the way through. Here’s a bit more:

What’s at stake right now is the latest Iraq “supplemental.” Since the beginning, the administration has refused to put funding for the war in its regular budgets. Instead, it keeps saying, in effect: “Whoops! Whaddya know, we’re running out of money. Give us another $87 billion.”

At one level, this is like the behavior of an irresponsible adolescent who repeatedly runs through his allowance, each time calling his parents to tell them he’s broke and needs extra cash.

What I haven’t seen sufficiently emphasized, however, is the disdain this practice shows for the welfare of the troops, whom the administration puts in harm’s way without first ensuring that they’ll have the necessary resources.

As long as a G.O.P.-controlled Congress could be counted on to rubber-stamp the administration’s requests, you could say that this wasn’t a real problem, that the administration’s refusal to put Iraq funding in the regular budget was just part of its usual reliance on fiscal smoke and mirrors. But this time Mr. Bush decided to surge additional troops into Iraq after an election in which the public overwhelmingly rejected his war — and then dared Congress to deny him the necessary funds. As I said, it’s an act of hostage-taking.

There’s been a lot of rhetoric about Bush and Congress playing a game of “chicken” over Iraq. I’ve witnessed also a ton of debate — public and private — on the Left about strategy and the virtues of passing a tough bill rather than a weak bill. Although the final bill is still in conference, rumor has it that the bill Congress will send Bush probably will have a “nonbinding” timetable as opposed to a firm one. This has got many who oppose the war wringing their hands about spineless Dems, which has become a habit on the Left. I’ve done plenty of it, too.

But I think, just this once, it doesn’t matter much. The important thing is to get Bush a bill that contains as many conditions on the Decider’s unfettered power as Congress can pass reasonably quickly. This means, like it or not, a bill that can get the votes of most of the conservative, Blue Dog Democrats and at least some Republicans. Because whatever bill Congress sends to Bush will be vetoed. A weak bill, a strong bill; doesn’t matter. It will be vetoed, because George Bush has a pathological aversion to being told what to do.

If Congress does send Bush a weak bill he would be smart to sign it. But his ego is on the line, so he won’t be smart. He’ll be stubborn. You can count on it.

Some are arguing today that since Bush will veto the bill, Dem leadership should be putting pressure on the softer Dems and antiwar Republicans to get on board with a strong bill. I’m fine with that, but only if this can be accomplished reasonably quickly. The worst thing Congress can do now is have a long-drawn-out fight over the wording of the bill. This would give the hawks plenty of time to saturate the nation with a propaganda campaign about “divided” Democrats wasting time providing critical supplies to our troops.

This is a public relations war, and much of the public isn’t going to pay attention to the fine print. What they’ll notice is Dems coming together quickly and decisively to send Bush a bill putting limits on the war. Or they’ll notice Dems fighting among themselves for weeks on end, unable to send Bush a bill putting limits on the war.

On the other hand, if Congress sends Bush a relatively weak bill, and he vetoes it, the Dems can rightfully say that Bush won’t compromise and isn’t interested in working with Congress to find a resolution to the Iraq problem. They could fan out around the country and tell constituents that the troops are hostage to Bush’s ego, and I think people would agree.

I’ve heard it argued that the antiwar Dems should hold out for the toughest possible bill, leaning on the “softer” Dems to comply, so that the public will perceive Dems to be strong. If Dems send a weak bill to Bush, the theory is, the public will lose respect for Dems. Maybe. But I think what would make Dems look even weaker is if they have to fight for several weeks to get the votes for a stronger bill, while Bush and his surrogates strut about the country saying that the Dems don’t know what they want, and that they’re just piddling around playing political games while the troops need their appropriation.

The worst thing that could happen is if the House-Senate conference puts together a tough bill that can’t pass, forcing them to crank out a series of incrementally weaker bills until they write one that can get a majority on board. That’s what would make the Dems look really weak. The GOP would have a fine time exploiting congressional pussyfooting.

Time is of the essence, as the lawyers might say. Whatever bill goes to Bush needs to go no later than next week, IMO. I’d love it if the Dems could send Bush a bill with a binding timetable, but not if it’s going to take several weeks and multiple passes to get to Bush’s desk.

Remember, there’s no rule that says Congress has to send Bush an even weaker bill next time. Some of the hand-wringers are making that assumption, but that’s not necessarily how it’s going to play out. IMO Dem leadership is just as likely to go to the public and say, well, we tried to work with him, but he won’t budge. So now we’ll have to get tough.

The fact is that nothing with any strings attached whatsoever will become law until there’s enough support for it to override Bush’s veto, and we’re still a long way away from that. Instead of endlessly carping at Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and David Obey, I wish the antiwar hotheads would apply pressure on the Blue Dogs and Republicans to help build a veto-proof majority for a bill that puts limits on Bush’s power. That would be (dare I say it?) useful, rather than self-indulgent.

We lefties can be our own worst enemies sometimes. I agree with what Swopa of Needlenose wrote here —

Personally, I don’t care if Bush doesn’t veto the bill, because that just sets him up for another measure to enforce the “advisory” language he’s already accepted. Here’s what I wrote a month ago:

    This is not going to be the last vote on the war, because as we all know, the war’s toll and the public’s revulsion towards it aren’t going to go away. Rather than tear ourselves apart trying to get everything we want on the first vote, progressive Dems are being smart to take what’s being offered — then, they should come back a minute after this vote and start asking for more. This should be the beginning of the snowball, the camel’s nose under the tent, a slippery slope, whatever cliche you want to use… and it’s time to stop settling for noble, principled defeats and learn how to win instead.

That logic is the same regardless of whether the bill Pelosi and Reid finish with includes mandatory timelines or merely “goals.”

In that same post, I wrote, “Kudos to Speaker Pelosi and the progressive Democrats in the House who recognized that the PR difference between even a small step toward ending the war and failing to pass anything will be enormous.” The aftermath of the initial votes has already demonstrated this, as Dems have become associated in the public’s mind with backing an end to the war.

For anti-war progressives to turn their back on the bill that comes out of the conference committee because the language isn’t strong enough would be essentially asking to give back what Democrats have gained in defining public opinion — and it would fly in the face of the reality that ordinary Americans aren’t parsing the differences in phrasing the way activists are. Sometimes, you just have to be smart enough to recognize that you’re winning, and not talk yourself out of what got you there.

The real fight is going to begin after the veto. What’s going on now is just ritual.

In related news: Davis Espo writes for the Associated Press:

With a veto fight looming, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that President Bush is in a state of denial over Iraq, “and the new Congress will show him the way” to a change in war policy.

Reid, D-Nev., said the Democratic-controlled House and Senate will soon pass a war funding bill that includes “a fair and reasonable timetable” for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. In a speech prepared for delivery, he challenged Bush to present an alternative if, as expected, he vetoes the measure.

This is smart, but the “Congress will show him the way” rhetoric only works if Congress can get a bill to Bush quickly. I can’t emphasize that enough.

This is from an editorial in today’s New York Times:

President Bush is taking every opportunity to rail against the troop withdrawal deadlines in the war-spending bills that Congress is readying for passage. He warns that Congressional attempts to set deadlines will harm the troops in Iraq, because a political fight over timetables will delay money needed for the frontlines.

The assertion is completely contrived. Mr. Bush voiced no such misgivings last year, when the Republican-led Congress took until June to complete a war financing bill. The $103 billion Mr. Bush wants— and Congress is ready to provide — is for spending through the end of September. It’s not needed in a lump sum or on any particular date in the near future. In the end, the real obstacle to getting the money promptly to the troops will be the veto that the president has threatened to issue on the final bill. …

…Ideally, all nonemergency government spending — which obviously includes the Iraq war at this point — would be included in the annual federal budget. But ever since he started the war in 2003, Mr. Bush has maneuvered to pay for it via separate emergency measures. That ploy created a false impression of urgency, which made lawmakers who questioned the spending seem irresponsible. The effect was to short-circuit real debate about the war. Now that Democrats are using the bill precisely to raise questions — and pose answers — Mr. Bush is desperate to derail it.

If you want to see what a real spineless wimp does look like, don’t look at Harry Reid. Look at Doug Schoen, a political consultant (of course) who flaps about in today’s Boston Globe that

The 2008 election is the Democrats’ to lose. Attempting to usurp the powers of the commander of the chief — or risking the charge that Democrats have abandoned troops in the field — is one of the few ways the party could jeopardize its seemingly impregnable position. The best chance to end the war is to make sure the next president is a Democrat.

Bleep that. Congress isn’t attempting to “usurp” any powers the Constitution gives it, and I think more and more of the public is hungry to see Bush taken down a few pegs.

Finally — I regret I don’t have time today to demolish this piece by piece, but Michael Chertoff has an op ed in today’s Washington Post that argues the Iraq War really is essential to national security. He evokes September 11 in the first sentence. No, really. Y’all don’t need me to tell you how bleeped up this is.

8 thoughts on “Our Troops Are Bush’s Hostages

  1. I wish some enterprising reporter would ask Bush why he doesn’t just sign the bill with a signing statement attached.

    I’d like to know the answer to that myself. Does he think the signing statements are meaningless? Well, then, good . . . and a heckofa waste of time. But, if he thinks they have weight, why not just do that? For political reasons, maybe? Such as trying to keep as bright a line as possible between the Dems and himself–either with me or against me–so that he doesn’t keep losing Republicans in the middle.

  2. I’m with ya. They need to get a bill onto Bush’s desk ASAP, so he can go ahead with his silly veto.

    Then, we ought to get some noise going about how BUSH is the one standing between the troops and the money.

    My biggest concern is the next bill. I’ve heard far too many Dems making ‘cave-in’ noises, as if they’re willing to stand up to Bush once, but not twice. I think it is imperative that they hold the ground and come back right away with the same bill, or a tougher one.

    You don’t have to watch Supernanny to know that responding to a tantrum by giving in to it just leads to future tantrums. The Boy King needs to be shown that there are now adults making the rules. And I think the American people are tired of having these children running amok and trashing the place.

  3. I don’t know if Bush has ever talked much about signing statements. He’s sneaky about them. He’ll appear to agree with a bill, and Congress won’t find out until days or weeks or even months later that he’s effectively “vetoed” it with a signing statement. I doubt he would admit in advance that he plans to attach a signing statement to a bill.

    In this case, he’s talked way too much, and way too publicly, about how he’s going to veto the bill Congress sends him if it isn’t “clean,” meaning free of any restraints on his conduct of the war. This IS a game of chicken, and if he signs the bill (signing statement or not), he blinked. That’s why he won’t do it; his ego won’t let him.

  4. Yes, Bush is holding our soldiers hostage…..just like he is holding the whole darn country hostage. How did we ever get to such a point, ‘a great nation’ held hostage, not from outside powers, but from the whims of one petulant immature egoistic puppet?

  5. Even if someone on the left blamed the shootings on the Conservatism, the MSM wouldn’t cover it; so no one would know it was said.

  6. Cheney is banking on the Dems caving in on the second go round. I suspect he’s just projecting an air of cocksuredness and running his mouth like an old toothless sage. But I’m not confident in the cohesiveness of the Dems to repeat their first performance. I would love to see them give Bush an even bitter pill to swallow the second time around.

  7. Breaking: –Major Oil Companies to Fund the Surge —

    Exxon Mobil and Chevron provide bridge financing via offshore Halliburton shell corporation allowing the surge adequate near term funding while Bush et al seek political cover for continuing to put troops in harms way without defensible explanation.
    Seriously. Why don’t the President and his veep approach the major oil companies for ten billion dollars to tide the surge over for a month or two.
    That way they can veto the troop shrinkage legislation and be assured of war bucks.
    Of course it would also be nice if the major oil companies paid part or all of the tab for the global security we provide for them gratis.
    –Craig Johnson–

  8. Pingback: The Mahablog » Fighting Smart

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