A solution still in search of a plan

Unless you were watching cable news, you probably missed Sen. Dick Durbin’s Democratic response to President Bush’s televised address on building up U.S. forces in Iraq.

“Instead of a new direction, the president’s plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction,” he said. Fair enough. That’s the view of a lot of people, including members of Congress of both parties, as the White House found out when it deployed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Capitol Hill to sell the plan.

Rice received a brutal reception from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including the ugly observation by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that, being childless, Rice would never have offspring at risk in Iraq. Gates fared somewhat better on the House side.

And what do the Democrats pose as an alternative? Rhetoric, nonbinding resolutions opposing Bush’s plan and a pledge not to cut support for the troops. There is vague talk of endorsing a withdrawal timetable, but nobody seems willing to address the consequences of a withdrawal, phased or otherwise.

Increasingly in Washington, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the onus is being put on the Iraqis, as if they, not us, got us into this mess. And Durbin picked up on that theme:

“The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.”

Fine. And how exactly does the government of Iraq do that? What if, as is very likely the case, the Iraqi government is incapable of doing any of that? What then?

In a sense, the Democrats are still acting like a minority party. Nonbinding resolutions, improbable scenarios and abusing the secretary of state are not going to get us any closer to a solution.