Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Want to know what happened in the Senate? Don't read headlines

What happened today, as told to us by the headline writers.

Financial Times: Senate tactics raise pressure over Iraq

Associated Press (ABC): Senate GOP Blocks Dems on Iraq Timetable

Reuters (ABC): Senate seeks speedier handover in Iraq

Japan Today: U.S. Senate votes to require progress reports on Iraq

International Herald Tribune: Effort to set Iraq timetable defeated in U.S. Senate

GovExec.com/National Journal: Senate orders administration to provide Iraq progress reports

The Nation: The 'No Exit' Strategy

ACLU: Senate Restores Some Rights for Detainees: ACLU Says Move Welcome, But Still Falls Short

You all got that?

I like what Dana Milbank said today, this was all about nothing and everything. Sums it up nicely. Plus, "the bubble" is in Asia right now.

So, what does this all mean? Legislatively, not that much. George W. Bush and his administration will have to provide unclassified regular reports, in effect bolstering the Senate's oversight of the war in Iraq.

GovExec provides two Senator reactions, and they are both wrong. First, Harry Reid:

"It's not often you see in our legislative halls here in Washington votes of no confidence on an administration. Today you saw a vote of no confidence in the Bush administration's policy on Iraq," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.

Why is Reid wrong? Before a mountain is made out of a mole hill, read this from that FT story:

With President George W. Bush facing growing public displeasure over the war, the Senate approved by 79 to 19 an amendment to a defence bill that clearly expresses concern over the failure of Iraqis to step up and strengthen their own security capabilities.

That is an accurate sentiment of what this measure actually requires. Beyond additional oversight, this measure calls for significant progress. It does not demand a timetable nor an expressed withdrawal strategy beyond the "stand up, stand down" rubric.

Bush and the rest of the White House retain firm control over the Iraq war. However, someone is now going to look over their shoulder. About bleeping time.

Now John Warner, who I otherwise respect a great deal, also being wrong:

But Republicans insisted their amendment did not reflect a rift with the White House. Rather, the language sends a "strong bipartisan message to the world that we expect the Iraqi people in the coming months to take a stronger take-charge action," Warner said. He added he has not been satisfied with Iraq's ability to stand up its government, and views the next 120 days as particularly critical to the nascent government's future.

Warner is wrong in two ways. First, this is not a bipartisan effort, even if it was a bipartisan vote. The Democrats want to undermine the president. The GOP wants to protect itself in 2006. These are very different goals. Second, Warner ought to say that we "hope" the Iraqis can do more. In all fairness, their country is in a tough fight now and we should not demand progress from them. We may, however, hope for it and work for it.

I think the Wonkette understands the important difference between demanding the Iraqis do more and hoping that they do more, or achieve more. The Wonkette is, uh, also a little upset with this vote:

Is anyone else concerned that the challenge may be "up to" the Iraqis, but we're the ones who fucked their country up? So much for "you break it, you buy it." This is really more, "We broke it, you buy it, fix it, fill it with oil and then sell it to us at a deep discount."

What this vote really provides is a chance for the Republican Senate leadership to keep an eye on Iraqi progress. The Senate will now have quarterly reports, throughout an election year, to check the progress in Iraq and bounce that off the vox populi. If the vox populi likes what they hear, the Senate and the GOP leadership will be in a good position, relatively speaking. If the vox populi does not like the first and second quarterly reports, then the Senate can engage from the standpoint of an oversight body.

This was a quintessential political move -- the creation of a political tool. It creates the ability to oversee the White House in a public forum. If the war goes badly in 2006, there is an option for the GOP. I hope the war does not go badly. But, if it does, I am glad that the Senate will exert public oversight during 2006 -- even if it may preserve the majority of the party to which I do not belong.

One side note.

Calling this a "significant event", Senator Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) took today's vote as an opportunity to counter Bush's major speech. Knight Ridder:

"The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and elsewhere, and should not be demonized or condemned for disagreeing with them," Hagel said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. "Suggesting that to challenge and criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democratic, nor what this country has stood for over 200 years."


Blogger Ezzie said...

Oooh, good post. Actually, you missed an important facet: 2006 is an election year - not for Bush, but for Senators. If they can convince the moderate left that they're still dedicated to the job, but not doing so "blindly" as the hard left will be trying to push, they'll solidify their Senate base. That will make Bush finishing off Soc Security that much easier...

11:17 PM  
Blogger copy editor said...

I meant to imply that point. It's an election year for 1/3rd of the Senate... and the Senate could help the House GOP stance. If The GOP controled Senate is perceived as active and effective on the war, the GOP House members can run a more local campaign.

10:25 AM  

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