Last Saturday, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on a resolution disapproving the president's policy because Democrats would not permit a vote on a resolution stating that the Senate will not cut off funds for troops in the field. That resolution would have committed the Senate not to take the path that many Democrats already are tiptoeing down.
Suppose Democrats write their restrictions on the use of forces into legislation that funds the war. And suppose the president signs the legislation but ignores the restrictions, calling them unconstitutional usurpations of his powers as commander in chief. What could Democrats do? Cross First Street NE and ask the Supreme Court to compel the president to acquiesce in congressional micromanagement of a war? The court probably would refuse to get involved on the grounds that this is a "political question."
The court has held that some constitutional controversies should be settled by the government's political -- meaning elected -- branches. In 1962, the court said that a case involves a political question when there is:
"... textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it; or the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion; or the impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government; or an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made; or the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question."
In that welter of criteria there are reasons why the court will not rescue congressional Democrats from facing the logic of their posturing. They lack the will to exercise their clearly constitutional power to defund the war. And they lack the power to achieve that end by usurping the commander in chief's powers to conduct a war.
They can spend this year fecklessly and cynically enacting restrictions that do not restrict. Or they can legislate decisive failure of the Iraq operation -- withdrawal -- thereby acquiring conspicuous complicity in a defeat that might be inevitable anyway. A Hobson's choice? No, Nancy Pelosi's and Harry Reid's.