I may have been premature in my last post, when I posited that Democrats were developing a spine when it comes to opposing the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. For en example of careful hedging see this from Late Edition on CNN
WOLF BLITZER: Here in Washington, Senator Jay Rockefeller. He’s the new chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee. He disagrees with the president.
I want you to listen to this exchange I had earlier in the week with Vice President Cheney.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are moving forward. We are moving forward. The Congress has the control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding, but in terms of this effort, the president’s made his decision. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Are you going to go ahead with the so- called purse strings? Because that’s really the only binding way you can reverse what the president is planning on doing? Is that right?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Wolf, it’s a mistake to underestimate the power of a resolution.
BLITZER: A nonbinding symbolic resolution.
BLITZER: All right. Explain to our viewers why.
ROCKEFELLER: Because it puts the American Congress on record. The American people are already on record as of the last election, but you know, to talk about cutting money right now, they’ve already sent some of those troops over, I’m sure. I mean, I think what you’re seeing is the beginning of a process, the Congress and the White House for the first time really engaging each other on the tactical military implications for Iraq. I don’t agree with the surge. I think it will only create more targets…
BLITZER: But you acknowledge it will go forward, irrespective of a resolution of disapproval?
ROCKEFELLER: That’s what I believe, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I have to be happy about it, or that I can’t prepare more for the future, because maybe this is the first of several.
BLITZER: And so you disagrees with someone like, say, Senator Russ Feingold, who says, go ahead and use that power of the purse right now?
ROCKEFELLER: I don’t know how we would do it, because it’s probable that some of those troops are already over there. In other words, how would you pick them out? We have to support the troops that have been there, so how would you isolate these out? That, nobody’s figured out.
Though, in fairness, Rockefeller did make this useful point:
Sen. John Kyl (R), Arizona: If I could just make a point, last Friday on “NBC Nightly News” there was a story interviewing several of our troops in Iraq. And to a man, they all disliked this notion of expressing the will in opposition to the mission that they’re fighting. They said, look, you can’t support the troops and not support the mission that you send us in harm’s way to achieve.
BLITZER: That’s a serious charge that’s now been made not only by Senator Kyl, but effectively by the president, the vice president. General Petraeus made the same kind of statement when he was testifying in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The new secretary of defense, Bob Gates, said what you’re effectively doing by passing this kind of resolution is undermining the overall U.S. military mission, undermining the men and women who serve over there, and giving aid to the enemy, if you will. You’ve heard that.
ROCKEFELLER: If I had the Shakespearian quality to tell you how many times I’ve heard that argument used, that we’ve ratcheted up, we’ve changed this, we’ve tried that, nothing has worked over there. What’s undermining the morale of the troops is not going to be the absence of a surge — which is, in fact, going to take place — but the fact that 60 percent of all shots taken at individuals in Iraq are taken at American soldiers.
So if we send over 21,500 more, we already have over 3,000 dead, it’s going to be a lot more than that. Don’t even tempt me to try to tell you that 21,500 troops make any difference whatsoever in the military outcome of the war or in the political outcome.
Meanwhile, over on This Week On ABC Sen. Biden drew a line in the sand over Iran:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn to Iran. The administration is also stepping up the pressure on Iranian operatives inside Iraq. Here’s Secretary Gates.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: (From videotape.) We are trying to uproot these networks that are planting IEDs that are causing 70 percent of our casualties. And if you are in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should consider yourself a target.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, he did go on to say he doesn’t think the United States needs to go into Iran, but a few weeks ago, Senator Biden, you wrote the president a letter saying you don’t believe he has the authority to go into Iran. Did you get an answer?
BIDEN: No. But, look, George, I agree with Gates. There’s no question that we have to do everything we can to protect American troops and that includes hot pursuit across the border as a practical matter.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But to take military action against –
BIDEN: But to take military action against Iran, he needs authority to do that. Look, this president, as my mother would say, “God love him,” has no credibility. He exaggerated the rationale for going to war with Iraq. He exaggerated the intelligence. The Vice President of the United States was a party to that, as we’re seeing right now in the trial with Scooter Libby. And the problem is, we don’t — there’s not a lot of trust in the administration’s assessment about what is going on. If it’s important enough to go to war with 72 million people, if it gets to that, that’s not what Gates is talking about, but if it’s important enough to go to war with 72 million people in Iran, it’s important enough to come back to the United States Congress, present the evidence, and get approval or disapproval.
Over on Meet The Press there was, as the diplomats say, this full and frank exchange:
RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, the president has said give this a chance. Why not give him a chance?
SCHUMER: Well, we’ve given him so many chances. We’ve had nine plans on Iraq-ization. We’ve had so many different alternatives, and no change in strategy. Here’s the reasons, Tim, very simple — we’re still policing a civil war. No one bargained for policing a civil war between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. That’s a large basis of the president’s plan. The Sunnis and Shi’ites are going to be fighting with each other whether our troops stay in three months or three years, and it’s our prerogative as a Senate, our obligation as a Senate, hearing the message of the electorate, to try and get the president to change. This plan is going to be — we believe it’s going to be a flop.
Lots of people gave the president the benefit of the doubt in 2003, but there have been mess-up after mess-up after mess-up. People are not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt again.
Finally, over on Face The Nation Senator Jim Webb made this point about for not using U.S. troops as pawns to score cheap political points. One can only hope Vice President Cheney was listening:
Senator Jim Webb (D), Virginia: And I would like to say one other thing, because I think it’s really important in the debate. Before these hearings began, Senator John McCain — he’s a long-time friend of mine; I have a great respect for him — pulled me aside, and he basically said we have to conduct this debate in a way that does not impugn the patriotism of either side. And I hope Senator McCain and others will remember that, because what I’ve been seeing over this last week is something from the other side on this that borders on irresponsibility. I don’t believe that there is any politician who has the right to say that he or she is speaking for the troops, for the military. Our military is as diverse politically as our country is, and it’s wrong to say we’re going to let our military people down in terms of winning if we start taking this in a different direction. What we’re doing is trying to define specifically how this could be a win.