Linda Chavez

Now that they have failed to override President Bush's veto of the Iraq war funding bill, maybe Democrats can quit posturing and get down to the hard business of legislating. Democrats knew when they passed legislation setting a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops that it would not become law. Now they must negotiate with the White House, a process that began within hours of the president's veto.

But can Democrats resolve the dilemma they've created -- to hasten the war's end without also undermining American troops?

For all their anti-war rhetoric, Democrats are terrified of being labeled anti-troop, with good cause. One of the lessons Democrats learned after the Vietnam War was that antipathy for America's soldiers is bad politics.

Not even the most strident anti-war activists today are calling Iraq war veterans "baby killers," or spitting on them as they return home from war, as Vietnam protestors did a generation ago. A telling illustration of this reversal in tactics is the attempt by Joan Baez, a Vietnam-era anti-war activist and folk singer, to entertain injured soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Baez's "peace" activism during the 1960s included being arrested and jailed for blocking military induction centers. But this week, she was trying to sing a different tune. Army officials apparently weren't ready to forgive and forget her earlier transgressions, however, and Baez was disinvited from performing.

It is one thing to be civil to America's fighting men and women and another to support them. If Democrats insist on tying the military's hands in executing the war -- even if they drop actual pull-out timetables -- they will undermine the troops' safety. But that does not mean Congress and the Democratic majority don't have a legitimate role to play.

The problem in Iraq is not the performance or the mission of American forces. The biggest problem is that Iraq has become a battleground in an Islamic jihad against not only America and the West, but non-Islamist Muslims. Al Qaeda targets the Shiite population, while Iran and its puppets in Iraq target the Sunnis. This is not civil war as commonly understood but a proxy war between two radical extremes in the Islamic world.

But the problem is also the Iraqis -- both the government and, unfortunately, a sizeable portion of the people. Al Qaeda could not operate without the assistance, or at least acquiescence, of a significant portion of the Sunni population. Moqtada al Sadr and his ilk would not be effective if ordinary Shiites did not shield and support them. And, of course, Iraqi politicians reflect these large sectarian splits and seem incapable of doing anything to move the country forward.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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