Quoth the Congress: Sort of, kind of, maybe, perhaps nevermore


The House and Senate votes on an Iraq war resolution over the weekend, following days of circular arguing, brought to mind Robert Southey’s poem in which a youngster was asked what good came of the Battle of Blenheim:

“Quoth Little Peterkin,

‘Why that I can not tell,’ said he,

‘But ’twas a famous victory.'”

The Democrats got their victory but it only proved what was already obvious: The public and increasingly Congress no longer support the war in Iraq. It is also obvious that opponents of the war in both parties have little idea what to do next other than launching a phased drawdown and hoping for the best.

The House voted 246 to 182, with 17 Republicans joining the majority, to oppose President Bush’s “surge” of 21,500 more troops. But the resolution is nonbinding — that is, mostly for show — and, as impressive as that margin is, House leaders concede that they don’t have the votes to override an inevitable Bush veto of any binding legislation.

Senate Democrats tried and failed to get 60 votes to force debate and a vote on a similar resolution but the margin, 56 to 34, showed that support for the war — seven Republicans voted in favor — is dwindling there as well. The Senate too could try binding legislation but it likely could not break a Republican filibuster or override a Bush veto.

Some Democrats think the way to go now is to restrict funding for the war or put conditions on the funding that would force Bush to reverse his buildup. But that is politically tricky — the White House would paint it as betraying the troops — and, even with Bush’s expansive view of his war-fighting powers, it does raise constitutional questions.

Some senators believe the next step should be to rewrite the 2002 authorization for the war to redefine the U.S. mission in Iraq. To make it clear, said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., that the purpose of the troops is to protect against al-Qaeda gaining chunks of territory, train the Iraqi forces and provide force protection.

However, that would be an explicit statement that our continued military presence in Iraq is justified and an implicit concession that we were leaving the Iraq people to the mercies of the sectarian militias.

To use a current Washington formulation, the surge is Bush’s last roll of the dice in Iraq. If Congress goes home on August recess with no progress to show the voters — either in winning the war or ending it — when the lawmakers return to Washington the antiwar resolutions may very well be binding.