Our troops get screwed

I woke up this morning pissed off about the war in Iraq — and by what the Democrats are doing about it. After taking control of both houses of Congress, victories that many attributed to growing public discontent about the bloody nightmare the Bush Administration’s exercise in pre-emptive war has turned out to be, most Democrats have done little or nothing to actually change things.

As I write this, Senate Democrats are making self-righteous noises about passing a nonbinding timeline for troop withdrawal that could take at least a year. In the meantime, they are voting to appropriate another $124 billion for war spending.

For once, I agree with Sam Brownback, the Republican senator from Oklahoma and would-be poster boy of Christian fundamentalists everywhere. Brownback says that creating a timeline for withdrawal makes no sense. He’s right about this, but not, as he would have it, because we need to give the Surge a chance.

No, a timeline doesn’t make sense because it only postpones the inevitable reckoning between Sunnis and Shiites. It also ducks a real congressional debate about the war’s legitimacy. If they had any backbone, Democrats would face the issue directly and propose steps to end our military occupation of Iraq now, appropriating only the funds necessary to get our troops home in the most orderly and expeditious way possible.  Since President Bush has promised to veto any attempt at changing course in Iraq, one wonders why the Democrats don’t try harder to end our part in the bloodshed.

Two things appear to be keeping Democrats from doing what’s right. The first is politics. While the Democratic leadership of Emanuel, Pelosi, Reid and Schumer is long on indignation about the cost of the war “in blood and treasure,” they appear less than eager to do anything that might hasten a resolution before elections in 2008. And so we continue to hear high-sounding rhetoric about setting benchmarks and sending messages to an Iraqi leadership that we all know is practically nonexistent. Meanwhile, with the courageous exception of Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, Republican loyalists are stuck in the untenable position of saying that the best way of supporting our troops is to get more of them killed. Democrats seem to like that. They think it will win them the White House.

But another, even larger — if less obviously odious — issue is involved here. Most Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, continue to think of America in imperial terms. Somehow we’ve gotten it into our heads that the world can’t exist without a SuperAmerica. Yes, it’s good to be the king. The trouble is that kings and bullies are the same thing to most commoners. As far as most of the world’s concerned, a bully is what we’ve become.

One thing that’s hard for a bully to do is admit he’s in the wrong. While Democrats have found it easy to blame Bush for his blunders in Iraq, they have been content to keep their focus on tactics. The moral question of how we came to give ourselves permission to go there in the first place has been swept under the rug.

The same holds true for how we intend to behave once the acute pain of seeing our troops killed and maimed on a daily basis is relieved. While Democrats speak of withdrawal, one rarely, if ever, hears about what’s to be done with the symbols of imperial power we have already imposed on Iraq’s landscape. The Defense Department has built at least 10 major air and Army bases in Iraq that it calls “enduring.” Some of these bases are the size of small towns. And then there is the embassy we have built in Baghdad. Its budget in fiscal 2006 was $923 million — 20 times that of our embassy in Beijing. Civilians living in Baghdad may not have running water or regular electricity, but the U.S. embassy has, among other amenities, its own espresso bar.

So much for our supposedly “standing down” once the Iraqis “stand up.”

The fact is that many Democrats believe that even if we can disengage from the civil war that’s devouring Iraq, we will always be entitled to a strong military presence there. That’s why so many of them voted to authorize this war in the first place. There’s all that oil, for one thing, and protecting Israel, for another.

“We would hope that the president understands how serious we are,” said Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of his party’s nonbinding goal of bringing combat troops home by March 2008. Not serious enough, I’m afraid. The time to bring the troops home is now.