Why? Because the horrors of the 9/11 attacks produced a tectonic shift
in our nation's politics. The slow movement of the country's
political center of gravity to the right was given hugely increased
momentum by 9/11 and its aftermath. It accelerated the Democrats'
drift toward the centernot just on foreign policyand cowed
a majority of the party's incumbents into a fearful reluctance to
confront head-on a deeply flawed but highly popular Republican
crusade against terrorism had already given him
the Teflon aura of a
wartime leader. All year long, the
so-called opposition party has failed to oppose. So no one should have
been surprised at the lop-sided vote in Congress for an unjustified
war in Iraq.
What became unmistakably clear in the days before the vote, however, was the degree to which the Democratic congressional leadership, by falling into the trap so artfully laid for them months ago by Karl Rove and the rest of Bush's political cabal, had connived in undercutting their own party's chances of advancement.
When Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman raced to the White House to stand
shoulder to shoulder with Dubya in the Rose Garden to announce their
co-sponsorship of the administration's war resolution, they did
more than simply give Bush
the beautiful picture he wanted for
November (as George Will gleefully crowed on ABC's This
Week). Their dastardly deal with Bush also guaranteed that Iraq will
continue to dominate the news right through Election Day, and thus
suck the oxygen out of the bread-and-butter issues (the economy,
Social Security, Medicare and the like) on which the Democrats had
hoped to take back the House and preserve the Senate. Just as Rove had
Tom Daschle, too, fell neatly into the White House's pocket when he decided to fast-track the war resolution, instead of waiting until after Election Day. The country was not clamoring for an immediate decision. In fact, all the polls showed growing discomfort with the notion of a war whose purposesas described by Bushseemed to change every week. Those same polls also showed that a majority of voters believed Congress, not the president, should play the deciding role in committing the country to war, as indeed the Constitution demands.
The strategic mistake of Daschle and Gephardt in agreeing to Bush's timetable mercilessly truncated the congressional debate; and put a gun to the head of Paul Wellstone, forcing him to go on record with a vote against the war that may wind up costing him his seat (in any case, it will certainly be interpreted that way if he loses). And a Wellstone defeat could be the loss that costs the Democrats their one-vote Senate majority.
The irony is that the Daschle-Gephardt sellout, which green-lighted
the shredding of the Constitution's balance of power, came just as
the savvy trackers at the National Committee for an Effective Congress
concluded for the first time in months that the Democrats had
glimmerwith the emphasis on glimmerof a chance to pick
up 33 of the 55 battleground House races.
If the Iraq vote had been
put off until after the election, fumes veteran NCEC boss Russ
it's just now become clear that the Democrats would
have won the House. But with less than a month to go after the vote,
that's just not enough time for the Democrats to get traction
on domestic issues. And in any case, Iraq will continue to dominate
the mass media at least until the U.N. Security Council makes its
Moreover, now that Bush has what Bobby Byrd called
another Gulf of
Tonkin resolution in his pocket, he can play with war like a
political yo-yo, throwing out new threats and heating up his rhetoric
every time his popularity is menaced by another conflict-of-interest
petro-scandal or the sinking economy, and thenmost likely of
allsaving the actual first strike to reignite jingoistic fervor
and jump-start his 2004 re-election.
The Tom-and-Dick-and-Harry capitulation (Harry is Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic whip who managed the floor debate and voted for war) was most clearly denounced in the Senate by its president pro tempore, crusty West Virginia octogenarian Byrd. The Democrats' one-time Senate leader rose the day after the Rose Garden sellout to proclaim his opposition to: a unilateral, pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation that is perceived to be a threat to the United States. This is an unprecedented and unfounded interpretation of the president's authority under the Constitution of the United Statesnot to mention that it stands the Charter of the United Nations on its head. . . . What a shame! Fie upon the Congress! Fie upon some of the so-called leaders of the Congress for falling into this pit . . . this rushing to vote on whether to declare war on Iraq without asking why.
Returning again and again to the Senate floor, Byrd, in his historically erudite perorationsmany of them ad-libbedspelled out how the blank check for war risked fundamentally and permanently tipping the Constitutional balance of power to the president's advantagenot just for little Dubya, but for all future presidents. The very character of our democracy has thus been threatened.
Byrdlike Dennis Kucinich in the Housealso kept hammering
away at the resolution's depraved authorization of aggressive
war. Teddy Kennedy finally joined him on that issue in the best of his
major Iraq speeches. So too did gutsy Russ Feingold, who scornfully
flayed Bush's prime-time Cincinnati address as
a shoddy piecing
together of flimsy evidence that contradicts the very briefings we
have received in linking Iraq to 9/11.
In the House, safe-seat Henry Waxman was one of many sellout liberals
who followed Gephardt's leadeven though he said his
constituents' mail and phone calls were overwhelmingly
anti-waron the grounds that it would send a message of
unity to get the United Nations to act. But his fellow
Californian, senior liberal George Miller, refuted that argument,
the resolution suggests to the United Nations that they
really need not act, because somehow the United States alone will take
care of Saddam Hussein.
By a significant majority, House Democrats wound up voting against the war (126 to 81)a much larger no vote than anyone expected, and a stinging black eye for Gephardt. Grassroots sentiment was so massively against the war in a lot of districts that it turned the votes of many who were wavering and gave them spine. The Democratic leadership in both houses seriously misread the mood of their own party as well as that of the country.
Still, the world's only hopes for avoiding a war with the most sinister long-term geopolitical consequences now rest in the hands of two of the world's most notorious crooks: Vladimir Putin, KGB-trained spawn of the Russian kleptocracy, and Jacques Chirac, saved from prosecution only by the presidential immunity he won with re-election last year. Both Putin and Chirac, who have Security Council vetoes, can be bought off by Bush.
The purchase of Putin is well under way. The Financial Times reported
on October 3 that the partly state-owned company Lukoil, which
controls 68 percent of Russia's $6 billion investment in
Iraq's oil fields (the world's second-largest) has
assured by Putin that
it will be able to keep its huge
stake in Iraq if Saddam is deposeda guarantee impossible
without a secret deal with Washington. Putin's veto threats at the
United Nations are simply raising his price to include the $7 billion
Iraqi debt to Russia, the security of Putin's $40 billion
oil-based trade deal with Iraq, and U.S. passivity when Putin invades
And the French are already waffling in public. To take just one
example, on October 9, Le Mondereporting a series of
declarations by Chirac's top political lieutenants, including his
foreign ministerconcluded that
the government appears to be
preparing [French] public opinion for the use of force once a deal
is made at the United Nations.
Bush's something-for-everybody Cincinnati speech gave an excuse to
Democrats who wanted to jump on the war train before it left the
station. As John Kerry said in explaining his decision to vote yes to
give Bush carte blanche:
The administration . . . recognizes that
war must be our last option to address this threat, not the first.
Kerry, like Gephardt and Daschle and Lieberman, wants to be president,
and this self-serving declaration was pure political pandering. But
David Gergen (spinmeister to four presidents, both Republican and
Democratic) nailed it right when he said on MSNBC that what Bush said
in Cincinnati was
blunt, hardline . . . a prelude to war. He
The logic of the speech would suggest that Iraq is
our first stop in the Middle East, not our last.