Monday, December 05, 2005

A Vote They Couldn't Refuse

Not so long ago, Nadezhda complained of something like writer's block and other assorted maladies of the pen (or keyboard as our current milieu would dictate). Well whatever was afflicting her is apparently in remission. She and David Schuler of The Glittering Eye have recently engaged in a truly interesting back and forth that covers many topics, including the leadership displayed by Senate Democrats both before and after the commencement of the military engagement in Iraq (or lack thereof depending on your perspective), the current role of these same Senators, to what extent criticisms undermine the war effort and several related subjects (chronicled here). Schuler makes several compelling arguments, and Nadezhda's output is as insightful as it is prolific (especially this "monstrously long essay" - don't be frightened off, it's not really that long, especially by TIA standards).

I wanted to elaborate on one point I made in the comments to Nadezhda's post. As mentioned by Nadezhda, the Bush administration intentionally scheduled the vote on the Iraq use of force authorization to predate the then impending midterm congressional elections. This was done in order to compel Democratic candidates to vote in favor of the resolution or risk the wrath of the voters at the polls - especially after the GOP got through with them using the still raw and fresh fears of 9/11 to cudgel any position that even had the whiff of being "soft" on national security. This was a particularly potent threat when one considers that at the time, the Bush administration and its supporters were doing their best to link 9/11, al Qaeda and Iraq in one seamless conglomeration. Quite effectively I might add, though the public is, at long last, catching up with the truth.

But there is another aspect of this vote that I wanted to focus on. As many are aware, the vote was not for an all out declaration of war, but rather an authorization for the President to use force in order to compel Iraq to comply with the inspection and disarmament requirements imposed by the United Nations. The vote was framed, by the President and his supporters, as one that would provide Bush with the requisite credible threat in order to force Iraq to come clean. With this vote in hand, it was argued, Bush could now proceed to kow Saddam - with the dictator on notice of the political will of the American people. But actual use of force, Bush and others repeated, would only be as a last resort after all diplomatic avenues had been traveled without the desired result.

The framing of this resolution in such a manner was not an accident, but rather a shrewd political maneuver for primarily two reasons. First, it might have enabled some Democrats who were wary of an all out war to vote "yes" under the belief that this wasn't really a war vote, but rather a move to give Bush the leverage he needed in order to achieve the cooperation of Iraq on WMD. Ultimately, I think most were aware or should have been aware of the fact that they were in essence signing off on the war, though, so while there might be a spare free pass using this rationale, I don't find it overly persuasive. The second reason is more subtle. If the resolution were an outright declaration of war, then Democratic lawmakers voting against it could claim justifiable opposition and attempt to ride out the GOP backlash in their respective campaigns for re-election in the midterms. Not an attractive option, but not as bad as what a no vote on this resolution would have looked like.

By framing the resolution as a means of giving the President the backing he needed in order to make the sanctions/inspections/diplomatic solutions work, there was virtually no way to defend a "no" vote. Think about the attacks: Candidate X wouldn't even vote to give the President the leverage needed to disarm Iraq. How can Candidate X say she/he is serious about national security when Candidate X would rather Iraq have WMD than give Bush the tools he needs to disarm Iraq and try to avoid conflict. Candidate X's recklessness will make war the only option. And so on.

By softening the terms of the use of force authorization, the GOP succeeded at making any opposition to it appear even more unreasonable. Or so many Democratic lawmakers were no doubt thinking. And as Nadezhda argues, a more concerted and disciplined "no" vote on this resolution would not have succeeded in defeating it or averting the inevitable invasion of Iraq, but it surely would have cost the Democrats seats in the then imminent elections. Such calculations, while not inspirational, are nevertheless required in certain situations. In hindsight, it would probably be a benefit to the Democratic Party at this point in time had such discipline been shown, but the GOP scheduled the vote and framed it in such a manner so as to seek to insure itself against any subsequent backlash. It was a well designed catch-22. But even the best political guile eventually loses out to the facts on the ground. In the minds of the American public, Iraq will be Bush's legacy in the end for better or for worse.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?