The Democrats have done their worst, and now George W. Bush must do his best.
The Senate's 51-47 vote to require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within a year, effectively telling al Qaeda and its terrorist allies that if they can tone down the noise for a year the Shi'ites and Sunnis can get on with killing each other in the name of Osama, Mohammed, Allah or any Muslim notability of their choosing. The moderate Muslims everyone here says he wants to help can drop dead (and many of them will).
"Nothing good can come from this bill," Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican minority, told the Senate. "It's loaded with pork and it includes a deadline for evacuation that amounts to sending a 'Save the date' card to al Qaeda."
Robert Byrd, the antique Democratic senator who is said to have led the fight to impose a similar restraint on Abraham Lincoln in the wake of Lee's rout of Hooker at Chancellorsville, seemed confused. "With passage of this bill," he said, "the Senate sends a clear message to the president that we must take the war in Iraq in a new direction. Setting a goal for getting most of our troops out is not not, not cutting and running."
George W. Bush, speaking to a group of Republican congressmen only a mile or so down Pennsylvania Avenue, sounded like a president trying on his fighting clothes for size. "We expect there will be no strings on our commanders, and that we expect the Congress to be wise about how they spend the people's money." In private, the president was even more forceful, vowing a veto that could set up an epic struggle with the Senate. Or at least a fight with bigger mudballs.
Both sides hint compromise, but that may be goody-goody blather. The most bizarre idea offered so far is a scheme by Mark Pryor, the freshman senator from Arkansas, to set a withdrawal date but not tell anyone what it is. Well, almost not anyone. The senators would know, and after some of them rush out to tell the Associated Press so would everyone else. Someone else suggested that if the senators set the withdrawal date only in Pig Latin, the terrorists, fearful of offending Allah, would never try to learn the date.
Pork, of course, is the only language Congress speaks. Earlier the president ridiculed the Senate bill, which in addition to prescribing cut-and-run threatens to sink under the weight of all that lard. The president reduced a convention of cattlemen to rollicking laughter with his mockery of the particulars of the Democratic legislation to "win the war."
"There's $3.5 million [in the bill] for visitors to tour the Capitol and see for themselves how Congress works." To loud laughter, he added: "I'm not kidding you. The bill includes $74 million for peanut storage, $25 million for spinach growers. There's $6.4 million for the House of Representatives' salaries and expense accounts. I don't know what that is, but it is not related to the war and protecting the United States of America."
But the president put levity aside to challenge the Democrats. "Here's the bottom line: The House and the Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders, and an artificial timetable for withdrawal. ... If either [the House or Senate] version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it."
The Democrats are convinced they're dealing from the position of strength. So is the president. The Democrats reckon, probably correctly for now, that the public is fed up enough with the war that they can pursue their strategy of total war against the president and the Republicans. The '08 elections, not the fighting in Iraq, is what's at stake. Nancy Pelosi and her minions think they have finally devised a fail-safe strategy, of crippling the troops through a surrogate, and thus can't be held accountable. "We will have legislation that will give him every dollar he asks for for our troops and more, but with accountability," she says.
But that's a bunco game, and amounts to promising "millions for bandages, but not one cent for bullets." Who but a San Francisco Democrat could come up with that?