Yesterday’s Washington Post broke an important Iraq story.
[On Nov. 30,]Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had a surprise for President Bush when they sat down with their aides in the Four Seasons Hotel in Amman, Jordan. [He] proposed that U.S. troops withdraw to the outskirts of Baghdad and let Iraqis take over security in the strife-torn capital. Maliki said he did not want any more U.S. troops at all, just more authority.
[In early December,] the president flatly told his advisers that the Maliki plan was not going to work. He had concluded that the Iraqis were not up to the task and that Baghdad would collapse into chaos, making a bad situation worse. And so the Americans would have to help them.
In other words, the head of supposedly sovereign state says he doesn’t want more foreign troops in his country. Yet the foreign power overrules and does it anyway.
That is not supporting democracy and regional stability. That is perpetuating occupation and breeding regional resentment.
This story was noted by two of the Sunday show hosts, but without stressing the full import.
Face The Nation’s Bob Schieffer led of his interview of internationalist GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel by calling the W. Post piece, “fairly extraordinary.”
But in Schieffer’s view, it’s extraordinary because Maliki’s proposal “sounds like the recommendations that [came from] the Baker-Hamilton Commission”. Hagel agreed and expressed support for the Iraq Study Group.
Both missed the deeper relevance to what it says about Bush’s fundamental goals in Iraq.
Meet The Press’ Tim Russert got closer to the mark, asking neocon GOP Sen. John McCain, “If the Iraqis didn’t want more troops, why are we sending them?”
McCain lamely responded that, “I think we’ve convinced Prime Minister Maliki then, as the situation continues to deteriorate, that we need to do that,” then derided the Maliki government as a “slender reed.”
Instead of asking McCain how dictating to a sovereign state is consistent with democracy promotion, Russert shifted to asking how much we should like Maliki.
At the same time, Democrats on the Sunday shows missed an opportunity to press that point:
That Iraq is disintegrating because Bush’s foreign policy is not about promoting democracy, but about imposing an unwanted permanent military presence in the Gulf region.
Though if Dems missed that opportunity, Senate Foreign Relations Chair, and prez candidate, Joe Biden, did potentially create an opportunity.
Biden has been pushing, with Hagel and Sen. Carl Levin, a nonbinding Senate resolution expressing opposition to Bush’s escalation.
And earlier this month on Meet The Press, Biden signaled an unwillingness to go beyond that and directly try to stop Bush from sending more troops.
Biden said then, “he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to” and “I think it is unconstitutional to say, ‘We’re going to tell you you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.'”
Biden was referring to the congressional authorization to use force in Iraq passed in 2002.
But yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Biden warned that authorization’s days might be numbered:
…if we’re really going to do something about this, which if, in fact, we can’t dissuade the president by showing him he has no support [through a nonbonding resolution], then I think we have to change the authorization for the use of force and make it directly deal with this straight up.
Capping and limiting funds are constitutionally able to be done, but they will not get the job done.
And I think we should be talking — I’ve drafted; I’m not going to introduce it right now — an authorization for the use of force that renders the last one null and void.
We’re in a civil war now. Saddam’s gone. There are no weapons of mass destruction.
And we should be instructing the president of what the limitations on his use of force in the region are if he does not … begin to move in the area of consensus … no more troops, begin to reduce troops in order to get a political settlement. A political settlement has to deal with oil and has to deal with local control. Mr. President, get about it.
If Biden follows through, pending on the details, that would be in line with (perhaps one notch better than) what LiberalOasis recommended two weeks ago:
…Democrats should respond by passing defense budget legislation that spells out such a strategy: renouncing permanent bases, refocusing troops on counterterrorism, supporting Iraqi-led reconstruction, beefing up regional diplomacy.
Of course, Bush will ignore such legislation and spend the money as he likes.
But Bush will ignore whatever Democrats do. That’s not the point. He’s going to keep us in Iraq come 2008 no matter what, so long as he’s President.
The point is to make it clear to the public that Democrats are trying to change the course, have a plan to change the course, and if the course isn’t changed, that’s all on the shoulders of Bush and his supporters.
Then the public knows what it has to do to change the course. Change the occupant in the Oval Office.
Both Biden, and Sen. Ted Kennedy on Meet The Press, both set up the expected nonbinding resolution as a foundation for more substantive action:
If Bush doesn’t follow the will of the people as expressed by their Congress, then that will give Congress further legitimacy to take tougher action.
That’s a sound political approach, but to work best, Dems to complement it by challenging Bush’s flawed foreign policy vision.
The news that Bush overruled Maliki on troop levels, undermining any pretense of promoting a sovereign democracy, gives Dems a fresh opportunity to do just that.