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Dems Search for Iraq Consensus

Terence Samuel takes on the question of the hour in his article in The American Prospect "The Fight We're In: What's the best way for Democrats to force Bush to end the war?" Samuel limns the current debate in the U.S. Senate this way:

The controlling intelligence, based on the political calculus of the moment, holds that the strategic approach is to leverage the president's grim poll numbers and the unpopularity of the war into a non-binding resolution rejecting the surge, which in turn would further isolate the president, perhaps forcing him see the light and change the course of the war. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed such a measure, and next week we are likely see heated debate in the full Senate. (Republicans have threatened to filibuster it.)

But even given open skepticism about whether such a strategy could work on a president who is almost theological in his beliefs about the rightness of his chosen course, Democrats have bet almost all their chips on the congressional repudiation strategy.

Meanwhile, Novak reports that a the effort to craft a Biden-Warner sponsored resolution supported by a super-majority has collapsed on Warner's decision to go it alone. Samuel quotes Senator Carl Levin's rationale for the non-binding resolution:

Donít underestimate the power of such a vote, says Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "You are further isolating the president," says Levin. "The president is on one side and the American people are on the other." The calculation is that squeezing the president politically is a wiser course than ending the war by cutting off the money to pay for it. Most congressional Democrats just don't want to go there.

But others disagree. As Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders says:

At some point we are going to say, 'We are not going to give you money to fight an endless war.

Sanders may be a minority in so saying, but he is not alone. John Nichols quotes Senator Russ Feingold thusly in his article in The Nation "Exercising Congressís Constitutional Power to End a War":

Congress holds the power of the purse and if the President continues to advance his failed Iraq policy, we have the responsibility to use that power to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq...I will soon be introducing legislation to use the power of the purse to end what is clearly one of the greatest mistakes in the history of our nation's foreign policy.

Sanders and Feingold get some support from a recent Newsweek poll, conducted 1/24-25. Asked "Since the Iraq war began, do you think Congress has been assertive enough in challenging the Bush Administration's conduct of the war, or has not been assertive enough?," 64 percent responded that Congress has not been assertive enough, compared with 27 percent who thought it had. But asked whether Democrats should try to block funding for the surge in a Newsweek poll conducted 1/17-18, respondents were equally divided at 46 percent.

It's hard to imagine a tougher call Senate Dems will have to make between now and the next election. The consensus that finally emerges may well determine whether they hold their Senate majority in '08.