As many Democrats now leave behind their stated goal to end the war to find compromise, it is wise to remember that fact. The government is designed to resist sudden changes in course by a simple majority.
Sadly, for our county, our course at the present time is deeper into the war. That course is set by a president whose abilities as commander-in-chief are now distrusted by most Americans. But a significant minority still supports him. Buttressed by that and by the power of the presidency in our system of checks and balances, President Bush can continue to wage war, limited only by the resources at his command.
So opponents of the war are left with three choices; stop war funding by blocking new appropriations, acquiesce entirely, or set up “guidelines” or “benchmarks.” If the majority that distrusted Bush was also firmly committed to withdrawal soon, then the logical approach would be to block funding. But a portion of that majority was already uncomfortable with a quick, mandated withdrawal, and neither Democrats nor Republicans are certain which way they will turn if this crisis degenerates into a game of chicken. Today at least, it looks like the Democratic leadership will not play that game.
Simple acquiescence is highly unlikely. Even many Republicans desire some benchmarks. So what we will probably get are benchmarks keyed to the actions of the scapegoat du jour, the Iraqi government. The Democratic leadership will do their best to make sure that any such benchmarks have mandatory consequences and that they underscore any administration recalcitrance. The president and the Republican leadership will work to make them vague and effectively ignorable. Either way the issue is not solved.
I will end with a constitutional thought. We really do have a system that forces compromise. More often than not, that’s a good thing. It is tragic that the blundering extremism of the Bush Administration, united with the attacks on 9/11, have left us in a situation in which a majority cannot change course without going to the extreme themselves, by cutting off funds while Americans are still in battle.