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Tilting at Windmills

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January 31, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA AND THE WAR....Barack Obama introduced legislation on Tuesday to wind down the war in Iraq. Here's his description:

The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008....The plan allows for a limited number of U.S. troops to remain as basic force protection, to engage in counter-terrorism, and to continue the training of Iraqi security forces.

I'm glad to see Obama taking an aggressive stand on this, but after reading his entire description I'm left wondering if it's really as aggressive as he makes it sound.

Here's the thing: I know that there's a lot of chatter right now about exactly what Congress's war powers are, but I honestly think that everyone talking about this already knows the basic answer: Congress can declare war, it has certain military rulemaking powers, and it can fund and defund a war. But that's it. Like it or not, Congress simply doesn't have the power to manage specific operational aspects of a war. Big Tent Democrat made the case for this a couple of weeks ago, and I think it's pretty convincing.

Now, this is not a problem. Anyone who seriously wants us to withdraw from Iraq merely needs to introduce legislation defunding the war. Even Dick Cheney agrees that Congress can do this. But Obama's description of his legislation very carefully avoids any mention of funding other than to explicitly say that it "does not affect the funding for our troops in Iraq." (Italics mine.) Without that, he must know that his legislation is almost certainly futile.

I realize that in one sense this is all meaningless since George Bush will veto legislation of any kind that mandates an end to the war, whether it includes a funding cutoff or not. Still, I can't help but get the feeling that this bill is carefully crafted to sound a lot more agressive than it really is. If Obama is serious about getting us out of Iraq, why not include the one thing that everyone agrees is a bulletproof way of accomplishing his goal?

As you may recall, I had the same complaint about his healthcare speech last week. I hope this isn't a trend. Walter Mondale managed to crush Gary Hart pretty thoroughly in 1984 with his slogan "Where's the Beef," and I wonder if Obama is opening himself up to the same kind of attack this year. I'm starting to get a little antsy on this score.

POSTSCRIPT: The more I think about Obama's war legislation, the more I'm genuinely puzzled by it. Am I missing something obvious? Help me out.

Kevin Drum 12:14 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (85)

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Comments

Aloha from Honolulu.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 31, 2007 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

I think the problem is that you re viewing it as a piece of actual substantive policy.

I think it's meant as a the second positioning pillar (the other being Universal Health Care) of his campaign.

There is also substance to it and I find it a bit disconcerting both in substance and in politics. If he's elected President, this positioning commits him to withdrawal.

I am not in favor of the war, but I am not in favor of outright withdrawal either. I also think that while this makes his challenge against Hilarry very formidable (as well as pushing Edwards gently off the field), I am not sure it's going to play very well in the general. He might run the danger of being branded a new McGovern.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman on January 31, 2007 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

At this point, we are still at the "dancing around the real issue" stage.

Having been though this during Viet Nam (and coming late to the rational position) I can only suggest that for politicians, it's like getting into a cold lake. It can only be done in steps.

But look how far we have come in just a few weeks.

I can pretty much guarantee there will be a bill to cut off funding soon. If for no other reason than for electoral escalation.

The American public made up their mind months ago. They don't give a damn about anything but getting out.

After that, it will be all about competing memes.

But no more 19- and 20-year-olds will be dying.

Posted by: Charles on January 31, 2007 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm torn. I agree with you, but on the other hand, it seems a bit wrong to premise withdrawal on the assumption that things will fail, without giving a nod to the idea that they might not.

I think they will, but I'll be happy if they don't.

Any plan that says "we need to get out as as possible" that does not immediately de-fund this horrible venture would be subject to the same criticism, unless I am missing something here.

We're gonna cut all funding in March, 2008 is different from "by March, 2008, we need to have all of our troops out of Iraq." It just is. Totally unsatisfying, but there you go.

I agree with you on the universal health care statement being vacuous, but this one strikes me as different. It sets goals, defines success, and, yeah, it admittedly leaves wiggle room. That said, this statement, unlike the universal health care one, really might change the terms of the debate, and of how congress acts. It states we need to get out, and soon. The details in this case don't matter nearly as much as they do in the universal health care debate due to public attention, awareness, and just plain old media portrayal/public perception.

I think. I hope.

Posted by: abject funk on January 31, 2007 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Am I missing something obvious?

Yes. Obama responds to your concerns when he introduces the bill:

"If we simply cut off funding without any structure for how a redeployment takes place, then you could genuinely have a Constitutional crisis or at least a crisis on the ground where the president continues to send troops there but now they're being shortchanged in terms of armaments and support," Obama said.

Some legal scholars question whether Congress has the authority to bring troops home because the president has control of military forces.

Obama noted that he taught constitutional law for 10 years and rejected the notion that the congressional authorization for war in 2002 gives Bush "carte blanche to proceed in any way."

"The notion that as a consequence of that authorization, the president can continue down a failed path without any constraints from Congress whatsoever is wrong and is not warranted by our Constitution," Obama said in a 10-minute telephone call.

Obama said troops should be sent to three locations — home to the United States, in countries around Iraq to prevent regional conflict and to Afghanistan, which he said is in danger of falling back to the Taliban.

The bill also would place conditions on economic aid to Iraq and would allow for a temporary suspension of the redeployment if the Iraqis meet security, political and economic benchmarks.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070131/ap_on_go_co/obama_iraq_4

Posted by: Obama better than that warmongering Hillary on January 31, 2007 at 1:44 AM | PERMALINK

I agreed with you on healthcare, but I'm not sure I understand your objection here. He's pretty specific about when and how he wants this war to end. Proposing this bill throws his popularity and prominence fully behind withdrawal and continues to add to pressure on Bush to end the war. It keeps the story out front. A few weeks ago, it wasn't looking like Dems were willing to go this far, and defunding was unthinkable. This takes it one step further. As will the next proposed bill, and the next.

Posted by: Royko on January 31, 2007 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

Although I am also fearful of the whole "Where's the Beef?" phenomenon with Obama, I think this is actually a very shrewd move, on both his part and the Democrats in the Senate. You mentioned that Cheney and Bush are both fine with Congress' ability to de-fund the war. That's all very easy for them, since they know that although the public is largely against the War, the public is not in favor of Congress ending the War bycutting funding for the troops. So what options do Democratic leaders in Congress have?

First attempt: They could do all sorts of symbolic stuff, like the non-binding resolution. However, I think that this pleases nobody: it doesn't please the independents or the Democratic base, who want more aggressive moves towards Congress ending the War; and it doesn't please anyone else (Conservatives) because "it shows the enemy that we are divided" and so forth. So this was perhaps a useful initial attempt, but the public wants something more forceful in terms of forcing an end to the War.

Possible second attempt: De-fund the War. This seems to be exactly what Cheney and the Bush Administration want the Democrats to try to do, based on Cheney's comments on this topic in his interview with Wolf Blitzer, because it end sup being a way to identify failure in the War with the Democratic Congress, as opposed to the Republican incompetence meme that seems identified with it now. So this option is a problem politically for the Democrats.

Now comes Obama's legislation: timetable for re-deployment, but light on details, and lacking de-funding efforts. Obviously, this legislation is futile: anything along these lines that has teeth will either get vetoed or ignored by Bush, and the Republicans will likely try to filibuster anything along these lines anyways, perhaps starting with this exact legislation. However, it gets the onus for the argument off of the Democrats: the Republicans canno longer claim that the Democrats are against the surge but don't have a plan of their own. So the Republicans in the senate can vote against this bill or filibuster it, but either way it forces the discussion back to them to give a response, and the fact is that the public is most likely supportive of a general plan along these lines.

In this way, the lack of specific details and aggressive de-funding efforts is an asset: specific details would allow the Republicans to ground the debate on this legislation to a halt in the name of debating the details. This bill as described is simply and easy to understand, but difficult (without the details) to explain away a vote against it. So it forces the public back to the Bush administration for answers, or at least for a response.

One more thought: with this strategy, the Republicans have three options in response, vote against it, filibuster it, or claim that Congress doesn't have the authority to do this. My guess is that the attempt will be made to fall back on option 3, which will also push that issue more into the public debate. Right now, Bush is simultaneously claiming that Congress needs to support the troops and lacks the authority to do anything to stop the surge. My guess is that this argument will hurt politically anyone who tries to support it.

Posted by: msmackle on January 31, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

Oh I wanted to add -

Defunding the war is a massive cudgel, and I can't really blame anyone for being hesitant to use it. It puts the troops in the middle of a constitutional crisis between the president and congress. Maybe it'll come to that, but I can't fault anyone for pursuing other options first.

Posted by: Royko on January 31, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

A veto of Obama's bill would help legitimize a bill to defund the war. It makes it clear that literally the **only** thing Congress can do is take away the funding.

A more normal president might respond to defunding by actually starting to withdraw troops (e.g., Nixon).

What I fear is that Bush will leave the troops in Iraq, without funding, and try to blame Congress for all the dead soldiers that result.

Obama's bill, as flawed as it might be, may be the last step before we enter a full-blown constitutional crisis over continuation of the war.

Posted by: Greg Abbott on January 31, 2007 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

Political posturing pure & simple.

Pffft !

"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it." - Mark Twain

Posted by: daCascadian on January 31, 2007 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

He's just building a repetoire with voters on Iraq. If he demands a defunding, or regulations regarding what U.S. forces can or can't do, his bill will go no-where and his efforts will be wasted. This way, everyone knows what he wants and it gets press because 1) he's Barack Obama, and 2) because it actually has a chance of making it to the floor for a vote. Also, it puts his more conservative Democratic challengers on the spot, and it allows him to define their Iraq war campaign strategy before they have a chance to do it themselves. While I would, of course, prefer something with some balls, there isn't much he can do about it. The U.S. military is funded on a two-year (Constitutionally limited) cycle. I don't believe Congress can really take money away once they've allocated it, so it looks like the President is free to direct soldiers here and there until the piggy bank is cracked. A budget will have to be passed between now and November 2008; let's hope that Barack Obama, and the other Democrats and moderate Republicans, take the opportunity to appropriately allocate military spending (with a heavy emphasis on air-lifts and troop-transport cruises back home).

Posted by: Everblue Stater on January 31, 2007 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK


KEVIN DRUM: Like it or not, Congress simply doesn't have the power to manage specific operational aspects of a war.

Funny that the Republicans--many of them the same ones who are now arguing differently (as are you)--didn't feel that way about Congress's power when it came to Somalia and imposing withdrawal deadlines in 1993.


Posted by: jayarbee on January 31, 2007 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

He can't be McGoverned, because he is taking this all out of the Baker-Hamilton report!

Posted by: Obama can't be McGoverned! on January 31, 2007 at 1:55 AM | PERMALINK

Obama better: I dunno. That sounds an awful lot like sophistry. He doesn't want to defund the war because he's afraid Bush will leave the soldiers there and just take away their body armor? Please.

Everyone else: Comments noted. You may be right. Politically this may be smart since it's stronger than a nonbinding resolution but doesn't pull out the nuclear firepower of a funding cutoff.

But his healthcare speech might have been politically smart too. I'm starting to get a niggling feeling that Obama is playing everything a little too smart for his own good.

But maybe not. I admit that I might be overanalyzing this.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 31, 2007 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't forcing the President to veto it a good thing, albeit not as good as an actual withdrawal?

That is, you get a Congressional vote on the issue, firmly establishing who is where. Coleman, Collins, Dole, Domenici, Hagel, Smith, Sununu, and Warner are all up for re-election, and each has either an occasional tendency to look reasonable or a real electoral fight on his/her hands. Add other occasionally reasonable people (Gregg, Snowe, Specter, Voinovich) and maybe Brownback, take away Lieberman, and that's 67 possible votes. For good measure, there are also 13 other Republicans up. Is it going to happen? No. But the vote accomplishes one of two things: either it will show just how badly Bush has lost Congress, or it will be an albatross around the necks of Senators with vulnerabilities.

You then get President Bush opposing firmly and directly a move the American people favor, with the very first veto of his presidency. That's an easy political sell. "He never thought anything was worth opposing before, but he wants to stop Congress from bringing our troops home safe." Or else he signs it but signing statements away its intent, and that odious practice finally gets the intense scrutiny it deserves.

And for Obama's self-interest there is a third good thing: a firm but politically infeasible call to end the war. It's the play McCain used to have and no longer does. And if it turns out it is politically feasible, that's an even bigger win for him and for all of us.

Posted by: jhupp on January 31, 2007 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published January 14, 2007
ADVERTISEMENT

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Saturday challenged lawmakers skeptical of his new Iraq plan to propose their own strategy for stopping the violence in Baghdad.

"To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible," Bush said.

Posted by: JS on January 31, 2007 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

Constitutional issues: murky water, never really tested at SCOTUS. Conditions on funding for military currently engaged in operations that arguably are not explicitly covered under AUMF, possibly passed as amendment to AUMF.

Politically: calls the Bush/Cheney/GOP bluff of "propose your own plan if you oppose ours." Ball put squarely in opponent's court.

Health care analogy: this is as detailed a plan any of the candidates has (moreso than most). The stage of the game is different on this issue, too.

Posted by: demondeac on January 31, 2007 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think you're missing anything. It can't be an attempt to kick-start a full-throated debate on the subject, because that's already occurring.

I can't help but feeling that this legislation is nothing more than one more demonstration of his prodigious talent in stating the obvious. I fear that its timing is related to his presidential ambitions and internal party politics.

This perpetual political jockeying would be totally farcical, were not the present stakes so high (thanks in no small part to the utter ineptitude of the current president). Such one-upsmanship is seriously warping our capacity to debate issues like Iraq on their own merits or demerits, and is crimping our ability to enact responsible public policy accordingly.

Do we really want to begin the presidential primary process 21 months before the '08 elections?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 31, 2007 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

Good point, Jayarbee, and don't forget Haiti.

Posted by: DevilDog on January 31, 2007 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: as I read what he says, his plan has a whole bunch of 'elements', one of which is a cap on troops at current levels; and it's that cap on troops, not his plan as a whole, that won't affect funding for our troops already in Iraq.

Posted by: hilzoy on January 31, 2007 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

with the very first veto of his presidency

Actually his second. He vetoed the stem cell bill last summer. (I'm sure there will be many more to come now, obviously.)

Posted by: Royko on January 31, 2007 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK


KEVIN DRUM: I'm starting to get a niggling feeling that Obama is playing everything a little too smart for his own good.

Well, of course he's doing that, as he's first and foremost ambitious. But Obama's propensity for being a slick politician is quite another matter from whether or not Congress has the power to manage operational aspects of war.

Obama would like to be elected President in '08, but not so much as he'd like to be President, period. So he'll play it smart enough to keep his options wide open, especially including V.P. in '08, which is his most likely position on the ticket. In short, he wants to make headlines, but not actual waves.


Posted by: jayarbee on January 31, 2007 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

Damn. I forgot about that. Good point, though I suppose we still get the advantage of this being his first big fight with "the new Democratic Congress." It's just a bit less sexy.

Posted by: jhupp on January 31, 2007 at 2:33 AM | PERMALINK

Just for the record, it was Donna Rice that crushed Gary Hart, on a boat called Monkey Business (of all things), not Mondale.

I also believe this is political posturing, and there's nothing wrong with that. By attempting to defund the war, the Dems can only hurt themselves.

It's ridiculous that 35 years later, McGovern is still a pejorative~~he being the highly honored WWII bomber pilot who turned out to be precisely right about Viet Nam. This country is dumber than a bag of hammers.

I say let the GOP ride it out and reap what they have sown. This is their party. If they want to take a long time to clean it up, the Dems should make their feelings known, but otherwise get out of the way. There's a lot of wisdom in the old adage, give 'em enough rope to hang themselves...

I'm happy to see the GOP spend a generation as the tragic Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to spend eternity pushing a large boulder up a hill. Such is the stupidity of this country that the Dems will only take crap for trying to help them push the damn rock.

The tragedy is for the kids in our volunteer military. But, this boondoggle will sort even that out. You'll see only the mad-dog militarists signing up to fight future engagements on behalf of the war profiteers. Anyone with any sense will find non-lethal employment.

Posted by: filmex on January 31, 2007 at 2:46 AM | PERMALINK

"Just for the record, it was Donna Rice that crushed Gary Hart, on a boat called Monkey Business (of all things)"

Yeah. A joke at the time

What do Donna Rice and Christa McAuliffe have in common?
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They both went down on the Challenger.

Posted by: No Excuses on January 31, 2007 at 3:00 AM | PERMALINK

Another question on this whole Obama-resolution business: is it everyone's impression that this is his own resolution, as opposed to a Democratic resolution that he is the spokesperson for and official sponsor for? If the Democratic leaders in Congress wanted to put forward their alternative plan in response to the surge, it seems like Obama would be the ideal person to fron it, because then it is guaranteed to get media play sufficient to get the attention of both the public and the Republicans in Congress, and wouldn't be easily rebutted by his having voted for the war in the first place.

Posted by: msmackle on January 31, 2007 at 3:28 AM | PERMALINK

My opinion of Obama has definitely risen as a result of his recent statements about health care and the Iraq War.

A week ago, I didn't know what he believed since his oratory, though impressive, didn't focus on any policy positions. Universal health care and the Iraq War are two of the most significant issues facing this country, and it's encouraging that Obama shares my liberal views on those subjects.

Since I started following the news as a teenager, this country has been drifting further and further to the right. In 2009, with a Democratic Congress and someone like Obama or Edwards as President, we might actually see some major liberal programs. While I shouldn't get too optimistic, that's an awesome possibility.

Posted by: Julian on January 31, 2007 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

Congress can declare war, it has certain military rulemaking powers, and it can fund and defund a war.

More than just he power to declare war, congress apparantly has the power to pass conditional, limited, use of force authorizations that's a broad and nuanced power to define the scope of war.

Congress also has the power to nullify such declarations.

Posted by: Boronx on January 31, 2007 at 3:52 AM | PERMALINK

jhup hits it, and I'm baffled why Dems in Congress - and everyone else for that matter - don't see this:

1) Dems absolutely should pass a bill to cut funding on Iraq, because it's the right thing to do. (and to hell with how it could possibly get twisted at some future date anyway).

2) The spending cut will pass, but there will not be enough votes to override a presidential veto. (so there's little chance of the bill actually going into effect.)

3) With the funding cut bill on his desk, Bush is utterly screwed. No matter what he does he loses. If he vetoes he ends up with deed, title, and mortgage to the war AND the Dems are 'off the hook' in terms of cutting funding to troops in the field.(although again, to me it's not much of a hook - ain't NOBODY gonna be able to blame this war's failure on the Dems, ever.) Not only that, but Dems have gone on record as havind done everything possible to stop the war short of impeachment. If Bush DOESNT veto when he had a chance to, then he's 100% complicit in the funding cut, and whatever the Dems get blamed for in terms of not supporting the troops, Bush has to be blamed for it too.

What the hell am I missing here?

There's no downside. Even if the veto gets overridden, that can only happen if a huge swath of Republicans get on board.

The lesson is simple: the war is an unfolding ongoing disaster, and the way to look good to posterity is to demonstrably do everything in your power to stop it. Oh yeah, that happens to be the right thing to do too.

THIS is why the Republicans are 'baiting' the Dems with this stuff, saying they don't have the will to actually do it. IT'S A BLUFF PEOPLE. People like Tony Blankley are acting as if this act of political 'courage' would be a future electoral disaster for the Dems, and is telling us we don't have the guts to do it. But they've gamed this out better than we have. A funding cut bill is the LAST thing Republicans want to happen because it will FORCE the president to sign his name - and his name ALONE - to the war once and for all, and will have shown the world that the Dems WERE willing to do 'everything in their power' to stop the war.

Posted by: ssdagger on January 31, 2007 at 3:52 AM | PERMALINK

one more thing:

The purpose of Obama's position statement is to be able to lay claim to some semblance of a plan. And IMO that's a totally valid reason for putting it out, and doing so in its current form. One of the wingnut spin machine's excuses for following Bush's Surge is because (by their twisted logic) ANY PLAN is better than the dems' NO PLAN.

And it's perfect in its current form. The generals can work out the details, this is meant to state a position, a general policy, and nothing more. Primaries are 1 year away, no candidate in his right mind would lock himself in to specifics if there wasn't an immediate vote in the Senate about it. There's no upside to that.

People can now call this 'The Obama Plan' because it has destinations for our troops, and benchmarks and metrics. And that's good for Obama in all sorts of ways.

Posted by: ssdagger on January 31, 2007 at 3:59 AM | PERMALINK

Obama better: I dunno. That sounds an awful lot like sophistry.

It's not. Richard Epstein, who still teaches constitutional law at U of Chicago, has made the argument that 2/3rds Congress can deprive the troops of bullets in the middle of a shooting war and the President has to comply. While that move is a clear-cut question for Professor Epstein, it represents a separation of powers issue (or "constitutional crisis") for other legal scholars. Obama is taking the a more nuanced and legitimate view, not engaging in sophistry.

From a political point of view, there can be little risk in simply implementing what the Baker-Hamilton report advised and most of the nation wants.

From a Feingold-is-more-serious P.O.V., attaching conditions on further economic aid to Iraq is essentially a limit on war funding that allows Congress to guide the diplomacy that is conducted without stripping the troops of equipment or succor. That's the right way to do it; specify what allocations are be withheld or cut. I don't think an actual budget hold is sophistry.

I too thought Obama's health care plan was fuzzy and vague, almost Kerry-esque. But this plan is real.

Posted by: Kevin Drum doesn't think Hillary is a warmonger? on January 31, 2007 at 4:21 AM | PERMALINK

What the hell am I missing here?

Since the election, Bush has already grabbed the war entirely for himself and ran with it. The Democrats need do nothing more to make the war Bush's baby.

Let me put forward another reason that Obama's plan is so great. By putting the withdrawl date in 2008, Bush's opposition to the plan will force Republicans to confront the fact that Bush would have Iraq be a stone around their neck yet again.

How many Republican senators are up for re-election next year? This plan is aimed squarly at them, as well. Turn a couple more Republicans and the Senate has some serious teeth to end this war.

Posted by: Boronx on January 31, 2007 at 4:26 AM | PERMALINK

He doesn't want to defund the war because he's afraid Bush will leave the soldiers there and just take away their body armor? Please.

Kevin,
Here is the debate where Richard Epstein makes that argument:

Richard Epstein: "Looking at all these provisions together, I think that it is possible to answer David's hypotheticals. There is nothing in the text that distinguishes the power of Congress to regulate in peace and in war, but its power "to make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces" covers both indifferently. If it says that our military forces can only use rubber bullets so be it."

David Rivkin: "This leaves me with the few hypotheticals, where I can say with respect that Richard has the courage of his convictions. He admits that there is nothing constitutionally wrong with having the Congress mandate the use of rubber bullets in combat or proscribing the use of nuclear weapons. For me, these measures, if mandated by Congress, would be unconstitutional and ultra vires; what Congress can, of course, do is cut-off the funds, such that in due course there will be no bullets or nuclear weapons left in the U.S. arsenal. In this scenario, Congress would exercise its powers foolishly, but constitutionally, in a transparent and accountable fashion. In my view, the core constitutional value here and the one that permeates the entire Constitution is accountability; if a president deploys the troops badly and loses the war, he cannot hide behind anybody else and would pay the political price. If Congress cuts off the funds for war fighting and the U.S. loses the war as a result, the members of Congress would pay the political price."

Richard Epstein: "As to what Congress may or may not do with rubber bullets, there is nothing in any constitution that gives us wise members of Congress any more than it gives us presidents who are willing to abide by the laws that it sets down, even if he agrees with them."

Epstein is clearly saying Congress can do stupid things like deprive troops of body armor over the President's veto, given a 2/3rds vote. Obama, by contrast, is saying a separation of powers conflict would be implicated, which is closer to Rivkin's argument. I would note that Richard Epstein is a tenured professor of law at University of Chicago law school, where Obama also taught constitutional law. Obama is not engaging in sophistry, but making a real, substantive argument premised on high-level constitutional theory.

To read the whole debate between Epstein and Rivkin, go here: http://www.opinionduel.com/debate/?q=NDc=

Posted by: Obama is not engaging in sophistry on January 31, 2007 at 4:34 AM | PERMALINK

Evidently many experts believe Congress can do much more than defund. Reuters 1/30/07:

Congress can halt Iraq war, experts tell lawmakers

By Susan Cornwell Tue Jan 30, 8:17 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress has the power to end the war in Iraq, a former Bush administration attorney and other high-powered legal experts told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

...

Four out of five experts called before the Senate Judiciary Committee said Congress could go even further and restrict or stop U.S. involvement in Iraq if it chose.

"I think the constitutional scheme does give Congress broad authority to terminate a war," said Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who was a White House associate counsel under Bush from 2001 to 2003.

"It is ultimately Congress that decides the size, scope and duration of the use of military force," said Walter Dellinger, former acting solicitor general, the government's chief advocate before the Supreme Court, in 1996-97.


Posted by: JS on January 31, 2007 at 5:07 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you do a pretty good job of laying out the case that all anyone can do at this point is posture, because anything strong will get vetoed and anything mild is toothless. And then you say that Obama'a just posturing? Just what should he be doing to advance the ball? And here I don't mean what should he propose that would be great if it passed which it won't.

At this point I think a presidential candidate should be staking out credible commitments to priorities and values. On health care Obama said pretty clearly (as I understood the coverage of the speech) that for him universal coverage was the main thing. On Iraq he wants a timeline that will get us out. Should he introduce a health care bill with absolutely no chance of passage? Should he introduce similarly quixotic legislation on Iraq? How would doing those things clarify his views? More importantly, how would they advance the ball??

On the question of Congress' war powers, the powers granted by the Constitution are supposed to be the backdrop of negotiations between the President and Congress. This is easy to forget when we've got a president who won't even negotiate with himself, but there is no reason to think that Congress can't use its leverage to accomplish very specific things, if it's got the gumption to use its leverage.

Posted by: Andy McLennan on January 31, 2007 at 5:59 AM | PERMALINK

I do think you may have missed the obvious, and it is the possibility raised by msmackle.
It is clear that some Democrats, most notably Sen. Kennedy, have decided that there is a public education issue involved here. It is true that defunding is probably a political loser now. But each time Bush defies the public will — expressed by polls or election or legislation by congress — it becomes clearer that the only way to stop his will to war is to take stronger measures. Kennedy has said this expressly — the congress votes now to tell him what it and the nation think, then takes increasingly coercive steps if he does not change course.
It has worked to some degree already. The completely unreliable Specter is, for now at least, lining up on the congressional side. More republicans will do so as bush becomes increasingly isolated.
In this context, Obama's bill makes sense. It is much more precise than the current legislation (that will be considered first) over the "sense of the congress" that we should begin to draw down troops. That is likely to pass in some form soon. Bush will almost certainly ignore it. Then the Congress can start on the next round of legislation, which could include Obama's as a step up in the pressure and speficity. Eventually Bush complies or the Congress votes something like the Feingold or Kennedy bills.

Posted by: John Downey on January 31, 2007 at 7:03 AM | PERMALINK

How can Bush veto a defunding bill? Just pass a bill without the funds you want to "defund". Let him veto that.

Posted by: sal on January 31, 2007 at 7:25 AM | PERMALINK

Our wonderful and talented host writes:

I'm starting to get a niggling feeling that Obama is playing everything a little too smart for his own good.

I wonder, what in the hell does that mean? Seems like just a puddle of drivel to me. Explain it. Give me some bullet points at the very least.

Posted by: Keith G on January 31, 2007 at 7:35 AM | PERMALINK

Regardless of the constitutional arguments, let's understand something. According to current realities, a pResident can insert American forces into a conflict area and basically hold them hostage to congress's agreeing to fund their ability to stay there. That is exactly what Bush has done with Iraq. Congress can refuse to fund the American's military staying there, but unless Bush withdraws them, they are hostages while in Iraq.

Of course, given that Bush is pathological, that's exactly what he would do: refuse to order them withdrawn.

Posted by: raj on January 31, 2007 at 7:39 AM | PERMALINK

Obama has had nothing of substance to say since he started his climb - but he does say this nothing well. America, a country teetering on the edge of illiteracy and addicted to less demanding 'media' will always have a soft spot for a guy who can say nothing well. Indeed, nothing is more soothing than something since something would have a burden of understanding attached to it. Obama's call for withdrawal is not only meaningless it's irresponsible - it's not even good politics, since it's facile intentions are so obvious as to look amateurish. Stop fawning over this guy.

Posted by: saintsimon on January 31, 2007 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

> you could genuinely have a Constitutional
> crisis or at least a crisis on the ground
> where the president continues to send troops
> there but now they're being shortchanged in
> terms of armaments and support

The Bush Administration has already sent troops to Iraq _and_ shortchanged them of armaments and support (particularly operations and maintenance funds, and equipment rebuild/replace). So the difference would be....?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on January 31, 2007 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

I'm genuinely puzzled that Kevin is genuinely puzzled. Of course Obama "is serious about getting us out of Iraq," and this statement and legislation is a first step toward that. If it were enacted, no defunding would be necessary -- if defunding were a part of it, it would only less be likely to be enacted.

Just as in Iraq, a real solution must be political, not military; in the U.S. a real solution must involve more than (likely fruitless) attempts to defund the war.

Yes, Obama is posturing, but he has a plan out there, and it's already more credible than that of the President of the United States.

Posted by: Culture of Truth on January 31, 2007 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

What about Feingold's legislation? I think he's proposing de-funding. Thoughts on that?

Posted by: mc on January 31, 2007 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

:) good!!!

Posted by: Emily on January 31, 2007 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

If Congress passes legislation that simply cuts off funds for the war in Iraq, the Bush administration will deliberately mismanage our withdrawal, expecting domestic political profit from blaming the Democrats for any harm that comes to our troops.

The only viable formulation is to direct the president to withdraw our troops carefully and safely, or else funds will be cut off. I don't think Obama had any choice but to be specific.

Posted by: Goatscape on January 31, 2007 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

If Dems really want to end the war, they can cut off the funding. But they're too afraid Bush will accuse them of something (not supporting the troops, whatever).

Dems do not have the courage of their convictions. So they waste their time posturing over non-binding resolutions.

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on January 31, 2007 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

The quick pull out of troops from Iraq seems to be the tactic of last resort for the utterly failed strategy of bringing a stable democracy to this country. We need to stop talking about just tactics and start considering a new strategy that will minimize the instability and suffering we've visited on Iraq and the area. There are a few people who have given this thought. One of the most thoughtful is Stanley J. Higenbotham. Helena Cobban published a guest op-ed from him that deserves consideration. It can be found here:
http://justworldnews.org/archives/002365.html

Posted by: c-2-6 on January 31, 2007 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

Obama's so called plan is a political stunt. The so called surge is a political stunt. Just cause Obama sounds nice making his pitch doesn't mean what he's selling is worth buying. Can't fault Bush for playing politics on Iraq and then get all excited about Obama as if he isn't doing the same thing.

Posted by: cull tech on January 31, 2007 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

You folks can continue to make it Bush's War all you want -- old habits are hard to change.

But it's fast becoming the Republican's War.

Thinking along those lines opens up many, many prospects.

Posted by: Robert Dare on January 31, 2007 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

OT: A former New York Times reporter testified Tuesday that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby told her the identity of a CIA operative weeks before Libby told investigators he had learned of the agent's identity.

This is now the second witness whose testimony shows Libby lied.

They led busy lives too.

Wonder why they could remember when everything occurred, but Libby couldn't.

Gonna be a hard sell to the jury for Libby's lawyers.

So much for the trolls who said this would never even go to trial.

Will Libby extort the White House to get a pardon?

Posted by: Google_This on January 31, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

This marks the second successive time that you disingenuously criticized Barack Obama. As many readers have noted, your criticism of Obama for "merely posturing" on the war is unfair and meaningless because you already have taken the position that posturing is all that Congress can do. Furthermore, your criticism is based upon the presumption that both you and "Big Tent Democrat" are right on the constitutional argument, despite the fact that Obama is himself an constitutional expert. Who's treading on thin ground here? If you're wrong, incidentally, then your criticism is worthless. The "meat," so to speak then would be in the De-Escalation Act.

Second, despite your support for universal health care, you attacked Obama's statement solidly committing himself to pursue a universal healthcare system. Instead of congratulating him on advancing an issue close to your heart, however, you needled him over truly insignificant details. Talk about losing the forest for the trees! What gives?

All of this raises the question: where do you stand on Hillary vs. Obama. If you're a Hillary supporter, come clean, and then we'll all know what your agenda is the next time you take your hachet to Obama.

Posted by: the dudge on January 31, 2007 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

If the issue is Obama, the man is what he is. It's pretty clear from his Wiki entry that he's basically a flash in the pan.

If that's not enough & you want more, the standard method is to take his birth data, set up his natal chart & read it. Please don't whine that astrology is some sort of pseudo-science. It can pseudo most of you out of the room.

Obama was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, HI. The birth time has not (yet) been determined, but will probably be found eventually.

The most significant thing about his chart, until we find the exact time (I think it's going to be around 10:45 am), is Mercury at 1.5 degrees of Leo, and Jupiter at 1 degree of Aquarius. As the crow flies, they are 179 degrees apart, an almost perfect opposition.

You take Obama's chart & go to a standard reference book, such as Alan Oken's Complete Astrology, and you read what he has to say about the Mercury-Jupiter opposition. From page 415:

The individual with this configuration may express many of the difficulties indicated by the square [90 degrees]. The opposition focuses attention on the large versus the small. In other words, a person can often make a mountain out of a grain of sand or vice-versa - and usually both. Sometimes there is a conflict between the intellect and religious aspirations (faith). "The Pseudo-Intellectual".

Since Oken brought up the Mercury-Jupiter square, here's what he says about that:

Individuals with this configuration usually draw incorrect conclusions, since judgement tends to become impaired through general misunderstanding of facts. Problems often have to do with travel; extreme restlessness is prevalent, and language arts may be impaired. The loquacious mind never stops creating a barrage of ideas, blocking greater understanding. "The Exaggerator" (pg. 414-415)

Oken's book is currently published by Ibis, of Berwick, ME. It was originally published by Bantam in 1980, and was published by them for many years.

Sakoian & Acker's Astrologer's Handbook also does a nice job of describing the Mercury-Jupiter opposition (pg. 424) It was published 1973 by Harper & Row & is still in print. I could cite Mercury-Jupiter delineations from many other books.

Obama is, of course, more than a Mercury-Jupiter opposition. If he was born around 10:45 am, then his chart in some ways resembles that of Bill Clinton's. Both are naturally gregarious.

Astrological analysis of politicians running for president is a closely-guarded secret of a handful of my fellow raving lunatics. If Barak Obama declares for president on February 10, then by elemental astrological rules, he will not be elected president next year. He will become what he already appears to be: A flash in the pan.

Posted by: Dave of Maryland on January 31, 2007 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that the Congress has a better alternative available to it if it wishes to bring the war to a speedy conclusion without playing the de-funding card: pass legislation revoking the original 2002 Joint Resolution #114.

The original Authorization For the Use of Military Force Against Iraq specifically (Section 3, Paragraph B) stipulated that the authorization for thr use of force was predicated on the assumption that Iraq was in violation of U.N. resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction and that miiitary action was consistent with the effort to take "necessary actions" against international terrorist organizations, including "those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

Since there were no weapons of mass destruction, and since it's been clearly demonstrated that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, the basis for the original Authorization is no longer valid. By so declaring, Congress would remove the legal foundation for the war without having to play the (probably) politically un-viable(?) de-funding card. If Bush then ignores Congressional de-authorization, de-funding becomes the clear remaining option.


Posted by: Ex-Pat on January 31, 2007 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

Congress' role is to decide whether or not we should be at war, and what our war goals and aims should be. Obama's bill does this.

The ideal vehicle for Congress to institute a mid-course correction would be a new AUMF, superseding all previous AUMFs applicable to Iraq, defining extrication from the war as our overriding goal, and setting a rough timetable for doing so.

Obama's bill doesn't call itself an AUMF, but it seems to do most of these things.

It won't pass Congress by a veto-proof margin (and Bush will veto it), but it will put everyone in Congress on record as to where they stand on getting out of Iraq.

Posted by: RT on January 31, 2007 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Dudge: unless one has a vested interested there's absolutely no intelligent reason to have settled on a candidate already. They have to prove themselves against each other and then against events which will prevail a year from now. If the Mideast is on the verge of war and Iran continuing its rise independents are not likely to feel very comfortable
electing an unseasoned, foreign policy light weight like Obama. Conversely, if things are looking up [extremely unlikely] then he might seem attractive.

Posted by: loyola on January 31, 2007 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

The Inspector General for the Defense Dept. is concerned that the U.S. military has failed to adequately equip soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially for nontraditional duties such as training Iraqi security forces and handling detainees, according to a summary of a new audit obtained by BusinessWeek.

The findings come as the Pentagon prepares to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq and as Democratic leaders levy threats to restrict funding for a war that's already cost about $500 billion. The Army alone expects to spend an extra $70 billion on an additional 65,000 permanent troops from fiscal year 2009 through 2013. According to Army officials, $18 billion of that will be spent on equipment.

The Inspector General found that the Pentagon hasn't been able to properly equip the soldiers it already has. Many have gone without enough guns, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to "effectively complete their missions" and have had to cancel or postpone some assignments while waiting for the proper gear, according to the report from auditors with the Defense Dept. Inspector General's office. Soldiers have also found themselves short on body armor, armored vehicles, and communications equipment, among other things, auditors found.

So much for conservatives supporting the troops.

They don't, though they try to hide it.

It is all about partisanship and what is good for the party to them.

Same for Lieberman.

Past time for this administration to go and for the Dems to get a Lieberman-proof majority.

When they do, Lieberman should be expelled from the party and giving the lowest positions possible in congressional committees. If they can make him clean GOP toilets, all the better. At least it would be something he would be used to.

Posted by: Google_This on January 31, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

If Congress has the constitutional power to declare war, then the constitution gives it the reciprocal power to UNdeclare war. Congress should vote on a DECLARATION, not regular legislation. If we hadn't made believe since 1950 that wars can be started or ended unilaterally by the president without a delcaration from the sole body (Congress) with the consitutional power to start (or end) a war, this wouldn't be an issue. It's time to start enforcing the Constitition. Congress, undeclare this war, put in a date by which all our people are out. The president has NO constitutional authority to veto a declaration (or undeclaration) of war. NONE.

Posted by: Big House on January 31, 2007 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A plan by the Bush administration to release detailed and possibly damning specific evidence linking the Iranian government to efforts to destabilize Iraq have been put on hold, U.S. officials told FOX News.

Officials had said a "dossier" against Iran compiled by the U.S. likely would be made public at a press conference this week in Baghdad, and that the evidence would contain specifics including shipping documents, serial numbers, maps and other evidence which officials say would irrefutably link Iran to weapons shipments to Iraq.

Now, U.S. military officials say the decision to go public with the findings has been put on hold for several reasons, including concerns over the reaction from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — as well as inevitable follow-up questions that would be raised over what the U.S. should do about it.

Just like with the WMDs, the administration is attempting to con the American public by making it look like they have evidence that they in fact do not have.

Bush wants to commit the US, and the next president, to a war in Iran just as he committed us to war in Iraq by lying, lying, lying, lying lying and then running away from any responsibility for the consequences.

Bush: a coward to the end.

Posted by: Google_This on January 31, 2007 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Just to clarify, the Donna Rice incident occured in 1988. Hart first ran for President in 1984, challenging Mondale's reliance on "interest groups" (mainly labor), and calling for "new ideas." Mondale's "where's the beef" counter-attack was effective becuase 1) there was that stupid Wendy's ad on all the time and 2) Hart really wasn't very good at articulating exactly what his new ideas were, even just in vauge proposal form. He just kept saying we need new ideas. Even George McGovern got after him about it. So I think Kevin is exaggerating the liklihood of Obama facing a similar attack here: his proposals are already much more fleshed out than Hart's were in 1984, and, however resonant WTB may be with people of Kevin's and my generation, its not nearly the omnipresent pop-culture trope that it was back then. For a candidate to literally use that charge today would be to date him/herself rather badly.

Posted by: Rich C on January 31, 2007 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK
Here's the thing: I know that there's a lot of chatter right now about exactly what Congress's war powers are, but I honestly think that everyone talking about this already knows the basic answer: Congress can declare war, it has certain military rulemaking powers, and it can fund and defund a war. But that's it. Like it or not, Congress simply doesn't have the power to manage specific operational aspects of a war.

Wrong. Congress can manage specific operational aspects of a war if it desires. There is no limit on the specificity with which it may exercise the Article I, Section 8 power "To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces"—if Congress chooses to make law that "The military forces of the United States shall not, after May 31, 2007 and without subsequent specific authorization by statute, be employed in combat operations within the internationally-recognized territorial boundaries of the Republic of Iraq", then that is the law, and the Executive is bound by it (of course, Congress can only make it law if it can either secure executive assent or override a veto, neither of which is likely in the present circumstance.)

Now, one may argue that beyond a certain point Congress should not micromanage war, and that the right remedy for a President who dangerously lacks the judgement necessary to properly run a war and who has, as a result, continud to endanger the country through his negligent or reckless conduct of military affairs is impeachment and removal, not microlegislating the conduct of war. And that is probably correct. But it certainly is not the case that Congress lacks the power to legislate as specifically as it wants as to the employment of the US military.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile -- Joe Biden, ladies and gentlemen!

Posted by: more on January 31, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

The legislation commences redeployment of U.S. forces no later than May 1, 2007 with the goal of removing all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008

1. very few people are in favor of immediate, complete withdrawal, i.e. not enough to pass a resolution demanding it;

2. very few people are in favor of immediate or precipitate near-term defunding of American operations in Iraq, i.e. again, not enough to pass;

3. The Democrats are writing out specific proposals, aiming for one that they think is just right, and this will strike many as at least reasonable;

4. most cynically, it is a campaign document, which will clearly distinguish Obama in case the war is still draggin on during the '08 campaign;

5. and most important, look at the schedule: in between the start of withdrawal (May 2007) and the completion (March 2008) will be the Congressional debates on the FY 2008 budget, which starts Oct 2007. Politically, it is easier to omit funds for the second half of FY08 than it is to rescind them for operations already in progress.

Lastly, isn't this the first actual schedule proposed in a manner that might pass? Everything else has just been talk (e.g. Murtha's various speeches.) Think what a difference there would be in the entire debate were this proposal to pass.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 31, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

Obama's description of his legislation very carefully avoids any mention...

...this bill is carefully crafted to sound a lot more agressive than it really is.

Sorry Mr. Drum, it is a trend. I find Sen. Obama to be like this for all issues I care about.

Posted by: Brojo on January 31, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

He doesn't want to defund the war because he's afraid Bush will leave the soldiers there and just take away their body armor? Please.

And your scepticism is warranted by what? Bush has already under-equiped the troops so what makes you so sceptical that this wouldn't be the result?

Merely scoffing at the idea is not much of a criticism.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on January 31, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Whatever qualms you have about the plan, you have to admit that it is expressed very articulately. Ane he is clean.

Posted by: Joe Biden on January 31, 2007 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Charles: But look how far we have come in just a few weeks.

It's like watching the early stages of an avalanche in slow motion.

With Super Bowl Sunday coming up, I am also reminded of the late surge (pun intended) of a team that is behind. At last, the Democrats seem to have the momentum, if they can maintain it.

On this issue, on health care, and on energy, I think that the Democrats are working through the process of realizing that they have real power with their majority, and are working to promote plans that they can force on the unwilling president. I think that they are unstoppable once a few Republicans accept that public opinion mostly support the Democrats.

Charles is right: look at the change in the debate since the new Congress was sworn in.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 31, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum: That sounds an awful lot like sophistry. He doesn't want to defund the war because he's afraid Bush will leave the soldiers there and just take away their body armor? Please.

Bush has never really equipped our service men and women, so how can he take it away?

Hasn't he already sent them into battle without body armor and other necessary equipment and support?

Is it really so hard to believe he would continue to leave them there without that support when he has done so already for four years?

Bush has consistently used the blackmail of "don't let our soldier die in vain" all along to boost support for staying in Iraq, minimal as it is now.

And just because a tactic is no longer working doesn't mean Bush will abandon that tactic.

Read the article quoted in my 10:52 AM post (via Josh Marshall) if you don't believe.

To Bush, every soldier's death is coin in his pocket to purchase time for him to push the end of the war past his end of term.

Posted by: Google_This on January 31, 2007 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

lots of good posts above:

Obama better than that warmongering Hillary on January 31, 2007 at 1:44 AM

msmackle on January 31, 2007 at 1:46 AM

were my favorite:

KD: I admit that I might be overanalyzing this.

I'll repeat my main point: look at the schedule. Congress simply can not act quickly, and it can't undercut troops in the field; balancing that, the President can't do anything without a budget passed by Congress.

Also, a note about Obama: he does not spout off in soundbites, but proposes nicely crafted statements with appropriate consideration of details. They balance goals and expediency. This is a refreshing contrast to Bush and Kerry.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 31, 2007 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK
I'm starting to get a niggling feeling that Obama is playing everything a little too smart for his own good.

I wonder, what in the hell does that mean?

I think what Kevin means would be more clearly expressed as "clever" than "smart", particularly in the sense of "superficially skillful, witty, or original in character or construction; facile".

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

RT: It won't pass Congress by a veto-proof margin (and Bush will veto it), but it will put everyone in Congress on record as to where they stand on getting out of Iraq.

A number of people have written as though such "political posturing" is of no values. But the votes are more important than political rhetoric. Bush might veto anything he wants, but this sets the stage for the discussion and debate on the FY08 budget.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 31, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Bush can't veto a funding cutoff.

Rather, while Bush can veto any bill, it's not the case that a veto will result in the money flowing at the same rate as previously. Without approval from Congress there are no funds at all.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 31, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Until you have a veto-proof majority, ALL of these proposals are "symbolic." A non-binding resolution expressing the Senate's dissaproval of the surge? Symbolic. A binding resolution that defunds the war, but won't get a 51-vote majority? Symbolic. A binding resolution defunding the war that has 51+ votes, but will be fillibustered? Sybolic. A fillibuster-proof bill defunding the war that the President will veto? Symbolic. You don't get out of the land of sybolism until you have a bill that passes Congress with a VETO PROOF MAJORITY.

In other words, all of Kevin's huffing and puffing about Obama's proposal lacking "substance" is BS. It is one of many sybolic bills floating around these days. Obama, like the other Senators putting forth bills at this time, is building momentum towards the eventual goal of having a veto-proof majority that has the power to defund the war in Iraq. The idea is to pass this stuff incrementally while building public support.

Look, Howard Dean's pre-war Iraq predictions were remarkably accurate. The fact that he was right, however, has not stoppped the Washington elites from labeling him a fringe liberal based on the very predictions that turned out to be accurate. Same with Russ Feingold: right on every issue very early on, dismissed as a moonbat by the media. The lesson, as always, is that the only thing worse than being wrong is being right too soon.

If Obama wants to keep the DC Insiders and media elites on his side, he must play the game of staying within "the mainstream." As long as he continues to stake out positions that are on the outer edge of the mainstream, however, I am fairly encouraged. Liberals and Democrats need to keep pushing and pushing and pushing to move the "mainstream position" on Iraq towards withdrawal. I see Obama's proposal as a step in that direction and therefore positive.

The eventual goal is a veto proof majority in Congress that can defund the war. Understand, folks, that this requires a bipartisan majority. It ain't just gonna happen. It's gonna take time and work.

Posted by: owenz on January 31, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Correction: Joe Buck is right.

Bush can't veto a cutoff insofar as a simple majority can choose to stop funding the war. Still, my point stands. We need a majority in the Senate to stop approving funds - and as it stands, we probably only have about 40 senators would take that step.

The symbolic bills being thrown out there right now are about nudging conservative Democrats like Hillary towards defunding the war.

Posted by: owenz on January 31, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK
The symbolic bills being thrown out there right now are about nudging conservative Democrats like Hillary towards defunding the war.

I think the aim is broader than that: they are about shaping the national debate and providing alternative ideas to the public, which combined with existing opposition to the war and frustration with its course serves to put pressure on members of Congress generally, not only Democrats who have been timid but also Republicans, to support policies to restrain the war and bring it to an end.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Obama has not thought this thing through. His lack of experience is showing.

Biden seems to have a better grip of the situation we are in.

First of all Dems in the Senate do not have the votes to pass such a resolution. Even if they did without cutting off the funding for which they also do not have the votes the whole exercise would be nothing more than a food fight.

The best strategy for Democrats is to do what they have been doing; influencing public opinion, which in turn will put pressure on Republicans in Congress to put pressure on Bush. The more unpopular the war becomes the more the republican politicians will worry about holding on to their jobs. If it comes down to a choice between supporting Bush and keeping their jobs their choose their jobs.

Posted by: Nan on January 31, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think you're missing much, Kevin. I've been having the same thoughts about Obama. I'm also thinking, if Congress DOES defund the Iraq war, they might go along with Bush on Iran (meaning, if he attacks Iran) to "make up" for defying him on Iraq.

Posted by: Kathy on January 31, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK
First of all Dems in the Senate do not have the votes to pass such a resolution. Even if they did without cutting off the funding for which they also do not have the votes the whole exercise would be nothing more than a food fight.

The best strategy for Democrats is to do what they have been doing; influencing public opinion, which in turn will put pressure on Republicans in Congress to put pressure on Bush.

Influencing public opinion requires air time, bringing up legislation like this gives the Democrats increased media attention to the issue not just of the war in general terms, but specifically what to do about it, and provides them a forum and venue to work on influencing public opinion. Without the context of proposed legislation that is newsworthy, that becomes harder to do.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

This has been a fascinating discussion about the powers Congress may or may not have over the armed forces visa-vie the President. Hopefully, to further this discussion, I would like to offer this hypothetical: Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entry into WWII, would Congress have the power to require FDR to fight the Japanese first instead of the Germans. After all, it was the Japanese who actually attacked US soil and killed US citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines. If Congress passed a law that only allowed funds to be spent for military operations against the Empire of Japan, would such a law be a proper exercise of whatever war power that Congress may possess?

Posted by: Chicounsel on January 31, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Anyone who says Obama's proposal clever and not substantive hasn't read his proposal. I'll also note that calling a black candidate clever but not smart is like calling a savage noble.

Posted by: Radical Jamal on January 31, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entry into WWII, would Congress have the power to require FDR to fight the Japanese first instead of the Germans. After all, it was the Japanese who actually attacked US soil and killed US citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines. If Congress passed a law that only allowed funds to be spent for military operations against the Empire of Japan, would such a law be a proper exercise of whatever war power that Congress may possess?

The hypothetical ignores the fact that Germany declared war on the United States following the Pearl Harbor attack. I find it somewhat hard to imagine a scenario in which a US Congress would actively block military action against a foe that had declared war against America and was conducting offensive actions.

I realize, however, that it is a beloved wingnut trope to believe that we chose to go to war with Germany rather than vice versa, but still....

Posted by: Stefan on January 31, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Plus, Stefan, its the favorite wingnut tactic of arguing because Congress should not have (taken some action in the past restraining the President), therefore Congress does not have the power to (take some other action in the present restraining the President).

Of course, the use of such tactics to justify executive supremacy by the wingnuts only occur when there is a Republican President, and much more frequently when there is a Republican President and a Democratic Congress. When there was a Republican Congress and a Democratic President, the wingnuts were much more enamored of Congress' war powers.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel: This has been a fascinating discussion about the powers Congress may or may not have over the armed forces visa-vie the President. Hopefully, to further this discussion, I would like to offer this hypothetical: Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entry into WWII, would Congress have the power to require FDR to fight the Japanese first instead of the Germans. After all, it was the Japanese who actually attacked US soil and killed US citizens in Hawaii and the Philippines. If Congress passed a law that only allowed funds to be spent for military operations against the Empire of Japan, would such a law be a proper exercise of whatever war power that Congress may possess?

Yeah, like we should take seriously hypotheticals from a "lawyer" that thinks administrative agencies are part of the executive branch.

Iraq didn't attack the US or declare war on the US.

Next question.

In other news . . .

Josh Marshall: Bush is sending more troops -- but the ones already there don't have the equipment they need [according to a new Pentagon IG report.]

What a guy, that president!

Posted by: Google_This on January 31, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Chicounsel: Blah, blah, blah, blah . . . [i]f Congress passed a law that only allowed funds to be spent for military operations against the Empire of Japan, would such a law be a proper exercise of whatever war power that Congress may possess . . . blah, blah, blah.

Perhaps you just don't understand the meaning of "proper," Chicounsel?

Perhaps you actually mean would it be the "right" or "correct" or "best" or "justified" or "wisest" exercise of their power, eh?

Perhaps you are still reading your administrative law treatise in order to understand the role of administrative agencies in our constitutional scheme.

Good. You need to brush up.

Posted by: Google_This on January 31, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Any real talk of funding cuts will be the kiss of political death for my Democrats.

The debate won't happen in a vacuum, the GOP slime machine will paint us, again, as not supporting the troops and being pro-terror. The realities of it will not matter, not with the media echoing any and all GOP talking points.

Give Iraq to the GOP. Say "we disagree with the President's approach, but we will not tie his hands."

I doubt this will happen. I'm sure my scenario will follow quickly on the heels of every discussion of funding cuts.

Posted by: zak822 on January 31, 2007 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK


It’s time to end this madness and support our troops- by bringing them out of harm’s way. If the top Democrats can’t figure a way out, then they need to get out and let those with the guts to end this open ended war take the reins from them. Forget about non-binding Senate resolutions-- here is what can be done and must be done:

* Pass legislation making the entire war pay as you go. No more off budget, “emergency” funding for a war now about to head into its fifth year, already longer than World War II. Tell the Bush Administration that not a single dollar will be allocated for any military action in Iraq- except for the removal of our troops- without additional taxes to pay for it, dollar for dollar. If President Bush can’t bring himself to ask for one extra dollar from his millionaire Texas oil cronies to help pay for body armor, communications equipment, and safe transport vehicles, then he has to stop playing the role of “War President” and the troops have to come home.

* Pass legislation prohibiting the introduction of any more American troops into Iraq unless they are fluent in Arabic and knowledgeable about Islamic customs and culture. Do this along with...

* Legislation requiring President Bush to ask Jordan and Egypt to send in peacekeeping troops to replace our troops as they leave, and take billions of dollars which would have been appropriated for the defense contractors who have profited from the war to pay the peacekeepers. Since they will be Arabic speaking Muslims, their insertion into Iraq to replace English speaking Christians will defuse the use of Iraq as an Al Qaida recruiting tool.

* Pass legislation prohibiting giving any military equipment to Iraqis. The weapons we are providing are fueling their civil war, and, even worse, are being used to take American lives.

* Pass legislation instituting a limited draft- limited to the children of the President, the Vice President, members of his cabinet, and children of the CEO’s and members of the boards of directors of the top ten defense contractors who have collected billions from this war. Every last one of those drafted will be required to serve in Iraq. That act alone will end this useless war faster than any bill of impeachment ever could.

* Pass legislation that requires a majority vote of the people of Iraq requesting that we stay. Absent that, we remove our troops from the country.

* Pass legislation requiring that before one more dollar is appropriated for military action in Iraq, the Bush Administration must bring before Congress public officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, and Karl Rove, who will be placed under oath, and required to truthfully answer the following questions:

What evidence existed in March of 2003 that Saddam Hussein had materially supported the 9-11 hijackers?

What evidence existed in March of 2003 that Saddam Hussein had both the intention and the military capability to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States?

What evidence exists that if we leave Iraq today, any organization or group in Iraq has both the intentions and the effective capacity to mount a military attack upon the United States?

What evidence exists that there are any insurgents in Iraq who are too timid to commit acts of violence unless a non-binding Senate resolution “emboldens” them?

And finally, what evidence exists that our continued military occupation of Iraq will result in a reduction of violence and an increase in political stability of that country?

******

Asking those questions won’t get us out of Iraq, but at least it might lead to either a long awaited truthful public utterance from the Vice President, or, absent that, a perjury conviction and a well deserved prison sentence.

Posted by: James Finkelstein on January 31, 2007 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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