One member of Congress called opponents of a continued U.S. military mission in Iraq "idiot liberals." To a critic upset that a supplemental spending measure doesn't zero out funding for the war, he shouted, "If that isn't good enough for you, you're smoking something illegal. You've got your facts screwed up."
Another member of Congress had a simple message for anti-war protesters who set up camp outside her home and requested the representative speak with them: "You aren't my constituents."
The former was House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., ambushed on home video by members of the Occupation Project. The latter was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, responding to members of Code Pink.
The incidents demonstrate some of the paradoxes of Iraq war politics. Liberal leaders who rode to victory on an antiwar platform last November are feeling heat from the left wing of their own party for not delivering an American withdrawal fast enough. A withdrawal that is too precipitous and propels Iraq further into chaos risks a re-creation of the Vietnam Syndrome and the loss of mainstream voters in 2008.
The White House, of course, derides any talk of reining in the war effort. Vice President Dick Cheney elaborated the point in a speech to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee: "If terrorists conclude attacks will change the behavior of a nation, they will attack the nation again and again."
That's a charge that can be leveled at the Reagan administration for its decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Lebanon following the bombing of the Marine barracks in 1983, as well as the Clinton administration for its withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia following the battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Osama bin Laden, in his 1996 declaration of war against the United States, cited Beirut and Mogadishu along with Aden in Yemen as the three Islamic cities in which American "impotence and weaknesses became very clear."
Whether the administration admits it or not, talk of deadlines and enforceable benchmarks in Washington may, in a paradoxical way, be indispensable for progress in Baghdad.
The president, an administrator for Iraq, two secretaries of state and a series of generals have for four years implored Iraq's political and religious factions to work together and called on Iraq's neighbors to help stabilize or, at least, not destabilize the country.
Those entreaties were easy to ignore as long as the U.S. commitment to Iraq was perceived to be unconditional. Many brave Iraqis have risked and lost their lives to build a new, democratic society. Many others saw no need to do so as long as 150,000 American troops were there to do the heavy lifting and billions of dollars in American aid flowed freely.
Likewise, Iraq's neighbors saw no need to get involved as long as Iraq was a uniquely American problem. The slaughter of Shiites was an acceptable, even desirable, side effect of bleeding the U.S. military and treasury.
The November elections changed that. And the serious discussion in Washington now about holding the Iraqi government to standards of performance and cutting short the deployment of U.S. military forces has focused the attention of the region's actors in a way that four years of jawboning never did.
It's no coincidence that in recent weeks Iraqi leaders have finally agreed to a draft petroleum law that could serve as the legal framework for sharing their nation's vast oil wealth and that the al-Maliki government played host to an international conference on stabilizing Iraq.
One doesn't have to agree with calls for an American withdrawal from Iraq to understand how a responsible debate about the U.S. commitment is good for democracy both here and there. Even Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces, proponent of the surge and author of the military's counterinsurgency strategy, acknowledges, "There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq."
Five years into the war, that won't be the last paradox.