Mr. Feingold's reward for honesty was to preside over what might have been the least-attended hearing so far in the Iraq debate. And those of his Senate colleagues who did bother to show up looked like they couldn't wait to hit an exit door. "If Congress doesn't stop this war, it's not because it doesn't have the power. It's because it doesn't have the will," declared Mr. Feingold. Ted Kennedy--one of two Democrats who put in an appearance--could be seen shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
That's because Sen. Feingold is coming uncomfortably close to unmasking the political charade playing on the Senate stage. Critics of President Bush want an unhappy public to see them taking action on the war. So we have the Biden-Warner compromise resolution condemning the plan to increase the forces. There is also talk of capping troops, of requiring redeployments to Afghanistan, of benchmarks and progress reports.
All these proposals have one overriding thing in common: While they may hurt the war effort, none are significant enough for Congress to take responsibility when Iraq is irrevocably lost. This is President Bush's war, and his critics won't take any step that puts them on the hook as well. Sen. Feingold's sin is to suggest that Congress do something more than play politics.
It's a delicate high-wire act, made more complex by the opponents' need to reassure the public that their actions, which will surely encourage the enemy and deflate troop morale, won't, in fact, encourage the enemy or deflate troop morale. This has led to the spectacle of the Senate one day unanimously voting to confirm Gen. David Petraeus, and the next taking up resolutions that would kneecap his plan for success. John Warner and Chuck Hagel are all for the troops, just not for letting them win. Very courageous indeed.
And lest you forget, this isn't just a
He might well worry. If one thing has defined the Bush years, it has been the president's willingness to exert his executive authority in defense of America. He's done it with detainees, with wiretaps, with military commissions. And he fervently believes success in Iraq is crucial to American security. In any thorny debate over just how much authority Congress has to interfere, it's a good bet Mr. Bush's own legal team will be pointing out the strong constitutional case that only the president has the right to decide where and how to deploy troops, as well as noting the peril of ceding any of that authority to 535 mini-me commanders in Congress.
What happens then? What happens if President Bush ignores Congress's attempt to direct the war? A few in the Democratic Party would love for an excuse to commence impeachment proceedings, but the rest understand that's political suicide. Then there's court. If liberals were unhappy about the Supremes deciding the 2000 election, imagine the theater of nine black robes deciding the outcome of the Iraq war.
Whatever comes, Congress is to blame. For a month the Senate has been trying to wrestle control of Iraq from the president, but undercover, and in a way that that avoids accountability. Sen. Feingold shone a light under that rock this week, and now the hard questions begin.
The Stupid Party needs to stand up, grab it's scrotum back, and say "Nope, we're not playing this game. We're going to win in Iraq." Hell, that might just get enough people back for a victory in November 2008. But if they keep on being weathervane-like jellyfish, they're toast.