Newscasters and pundits keep talking about the dilemma the Democrats are facing in legislatively opposing President Bush's troop surge. But this is hardly anything new. The Democrats have never had any answers on Iraq or the larger war on terror. It's just that now, they're going to have a harder time avoiding that fact.
We all know what the Democrats oppose in the war, but after all this time, do we know what they are for?
They are against the war in Iraq, and they are opposed to most of the tools the administration has used to prosecute the war on terror. They are against much of the Patriot Act, the NSA domestic surveillance program, the trial of enemy combatants in military tribunals, tough interrogation techniques, Gitmo and Bush's harsh language against the "evildoers."
They are against "unilateralism" when they mistakenly think Bush has employed it (in the build-up to the Iraq attack) and against multilateralism when Bush is obviously employing it (Iraq and North Korea).
But what would they do to combat terrorism? What would they have done to prevent Saddam Hussein from using or selling to terrorists WMD we all thought he had? What would they have done to enforce compliance with his post-war treaties and U.N. resolutions? What would they have done had they been in power on Sept. 11 against Al Qaeda and/or the Taliban other than demanding due process and strict proof tying them to the attacks?
Their "Bush lied" mantra gave them cover through the November elections, but their acquisition of congressional control resulted in pressure to come up with a plan of their own. If their response has been any indication of how they would manage the war should they win the White House, we just need to pray harder that they don't.
They didn't dare push through a resolution cutting off funding for the troops. The loftiest aspiration they had was to achieve the Pyrrhic victory of passing a resolution in both houses of Congress condemning the troop surge in Iraq. But they couldn't even pull that off.
Though Sen. Schumer threatened that Democrats would propose "resolution after resolution, amendment after amendment" until the troops are withdrawn from Iraq, his party can't decide whether it should rescind the Iraq war resolution, tie the president's hands by imposing stifling readiness restrictions on our troops a la "Slow-bleed Murtha," demand inflexible benchmarks and dates certain for withdrawal or propose something else to demonstrate their "support" for the troops.
Will they be able to tie some oppressive rider to the president's upcoming military budget request, or will their extra-constitutional scheme to usurp executive powers to micromanage the war even alienate the moderate wing of their party?
The Democrats aren't refusing to offer a plan on Iraq just because of their inability to reach an intra-party consensus, but also because they don't have any answers with the long view in mind.
They can continue to obfuscate with their claims that we weren't justified in attacking Iraq and that we're not competently prosecuting the war. But they have no suggestions as to how we could better prosecute it. Their answer is only to leave, as fast as we can.
But even here, after all their tough talk, their legislative proposals don't quite match their rhetoric. They portray their support for benchmarks as responsible policy. But their promise to withdraw our troops even if these arbitrary timetables aren't met -- any negative consequences to our national interest be damned -- prove their utter lack of seriousness on the war.
Indeed, have you ever heard any leading Democrat make an attempt, even a feeble one, to answer how we will deal with the guaranteed devastating consequences of a premature withdrawal from Iraq? It's one thing for them to argue -- erroneously -- that deposing Saddam wasn't worth risking American lives. But will they also finally argue that ceding Iraq to terrorist control will be inconsequential to U.S. interests?
Try as they might to avoid dealing with the inevitability of these consequences, reality is beginning to hit them squarely in the face. No matter how unpopular the war, Democrats can only survive so long without bellying up to the bar of policy responsibility.
Though they skated through the last election on negative energy alone, without offering any plan, capturing the presidency by stealth should be a much tougher assignment.
If the impending legislative battles don't flush out the bankruptcy of the Democrats' policy on the war, perhaps the primary contest will. They can run (and cut and run) only so long, but in the end they can't hide from their morally indefensible (absence of a) position on the war.