Is Cheney Right? Will Democrats Cave on Iraq
By Ray McGovern
-- - The rhetoric over recent days and this morning makes it
clear that Vice President Dick Cheney is still in charge of Iraq
policy. He seems supremely confident that the Democrats can be
intimidated into giving the White House the only thing it really
wants – enough money to stave off defeat until President George
W. Bush and Cheney are safely out of office. That, of course, is
also what lies behind the "temporary surge" in troop strength.
Was Defense Secretary Robert Gates being naive or disingenuous
on Jan. 11, when he appeared before the Senate Armed Forces
Committee and addressed the "surge?"
"I don't think anybody has a definite idea about how long the
surge would last. I think for most of us, in our minds, we're
thinking of it as a matter of months, not 18 months or two
I know Gates; he is not naive. And whatever the relative merits
of positions on a policy issue, neither he nor anyone else in
the small coterie of presidential advisers is likely to stand up
to Cheney. The $64 question is whether the Democrats will. To
me, that appears a long shot.
On CBS' Face the Nation yesterday, Cheney could barely suppress
a smirk in expressing confidence that the Democrats in the end
will cave in and, as he put it, "not leave America's fighting
forces in harm's way without the resources they need to defend
themselves." And yes, the vice president went on to reassure
viewers – against all evidence to the contrary – "We are making
While our corporate media remains allergic to analyzing the
administration's true intentions, Democrats cannot fail to see
the White House game for what it is. Will they be frightened
into acquiescing in the certain deaths of 1,000 to 1,500 more
American troops already "in harm's way," and the wounding of
several times that number – not to mention the mounting
casualties among Iraqis?
It appears they will.
While some Democrats in Congress have shown backbone since
becoming the majority, key members like Senate Armed Services
Committee Chair Carl Levin of Michigan seem willing to acquiesce
in giving Cheney and Bush funding to continue the war, no matter
what. On April 8, right after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
announced he would cosponsor legislation cutting off all funding
for combat troops next March, Levin undercut Reid by telling
ABC's This Week, "We're not going to vote to cut the funding,
period. … We're not going to cut off funding for the troops. We
shouldn't cut off funding for the troops. … We're going to vote
for a bill that funds the troops, period. We're going to fund
the troops. We always have."
Do you want me to repeat that?
Levin is a smart fellow, but his progressive credentials have
been tarnished by his caving in on funding for an unworkable
National Missile Defense project, by his working out an unsavory
compromise with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on depriving
detainees of rights formerly guaranteed them by the U.S.
Constitution, and now this.
What would prompt Levin to preempt his own majority leader? One
possible explanation might be found in the chutzpah-laden
admonitions coming from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee (AIPAC) cheerleaders for Cheney, who do not
disguise their fervor for the U.S. continuing the war in Iraq.
Their gratuitous warnings at last month's AIPAC meeting in
Washington that U.S. politicians not show "weakness" on Iraq
spring from their conviction that withdrawal of U.S. troops
would make the neighborhood more dangerous for Israel. (Israeli
politicians should have thought of that before goading Bush and
Cheney into attacking Iraq in the first place.)
Levin has received more money from AIPAC than any other senator.
It seems an open question whether he is influenced more by the
money or by a penchant – akin to that of Republican
"neoconservatives" – to see little or no daylight between what
they perceive to be Israel's interests and those of the United
Perhaps there is a simpler explanation. If there is, Levin owes
it to us. Yesterday he waffled some more, telling Fox News
Sunday that, if the president vetoes a troop withdrawal date,
Congress will try to approve a bill with "some very strong,
clear, statement about the Iraqis needing to meet our
benchmarks, and consequences if they don't."
Right. That is sure to work with Bush, Cheney, and Iraqi
leaders, who continue to play senior U.S. officials like a
violin. If that is the kind of cowardly "compromise" Reid and
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accommodate to after talking with the
president on Wednesday, let everyone know that they do so over
the dead bodies of countless thousands more Americans and
No Give From Bush
President Bush was well-scripted for his White House East Room
performance this morning, at which he used the bereaved spouses
and children of fallen troops as a backdrop to repeat his
familiar bromides for continued war in Iraq. The well-worn
rhetorical flourishes were all there, relevant or not: two
shameless allusions to Sept. 11 (as if that had anything to do
with Iraq); the need to fight over there, "so that we don't have
to face [the terrorists] where you live;" refusal to countenance
"arbitrary dates" or an "artificial timetable" for "precipitous
There was no sign in the East Room of any White House intention
to compromise on key points; rather, the lines are now clearly
Immediately after the president's presentation, Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid and two retired U.S. Army generals responded.
The generals went on the offensive, showing the military
strategy and tactics on Iraq, particularly the surge, to be
misguided and counterproductive. Reid, however, was perceptively
on the defensive. He gave pride of place to repeated assurances
that "Congress is committed to fully funding the troops," adding
that draft legislation gives the president $4.3 billion more
than he even asked for. He then suggested, in a plaintive tone,
said that the president "should listen to us." Fat chance.
Asked about Levin's unusual behavior, Reid finessed his answer,
referring to the possibility of benchmarks and stressing that
the president "is not going to get a bill that has nothing on
it," even if he vetoes the first one. Reid added, "Senator Levin
is one of my strong allies, one of my generals; I look to him
for guidance and leadership.
A harbinger of Democratic cave-in on Wednesday, absent an
immediate backbone transplant for Reid.
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