Dulles, Virginia — "We will hold the President accountable," Nancy Pelosi told ABC News in a recent interview about Iraq. Armed with poll numbers showing that 70% of the public disapproves of the way the President has managed the war effort, the new Speaker was only formalizing the position of her party for the past two years. Continuing, Pelosi declared that the President "has to answer for his war."
There you have it. The Democrat leader officially washed her hands of Operation Iraqi Freedom and christened the problematic campaign the responsibility of one man. For the lives that have been lost, for the chaos that has erupted, Pelosi and her party are off the hook as far as she is concerned. And they are not about to put the national interest ahead of a political foe whose legacy and party are tied, in their eyes, to a failed foreign policy.
The American people overwhelmingly believe that Iraq is the most important issue to be addressed in the coming year, and, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll — by a margin of 60% to 33% — the public trusts Congress over the President to take command of the war.
But Congress wants no part of it. Are they willing to criticize the President? You bet. Condemn his management of the war? Absolutely. But accept responsibility for what they allowed him to do four years ago? Forget about it. Congressional blustering is taking the form of non-binding resolutions that amount to a no confidence vote for Mr. Bush and his decision to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500.
"It is not in the national interest of the United States," the resolution reads in part, "to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq." Its bipartisan sponsors are Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel who both voted in 2002 to allow the President to send U.S. forces to make war on Iraq and who are now leading the chorus of criticism against an increase in forces to quell the violence in Baghdad. Hagel now says he "regrets" that vote.
Another critic is the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee — Virginia’s Senator John Warner — who, a few years ago, shook his pom poms as aggressively as anybody when it was politically popular to send the boys (and girls) off to war.
Now, in more sober times, Warner’s measure, which he introduced the day before the State of the Union address, says that the "Senate disagrees with the ‘plan’ to augment our forces by 21,500, and urges instead to consider all options and alternatives." Warner further reasons that he has "great concern about the American G.I. being thrust into that situation [in Iraq], the origins of which sometimes go back over a thousand years."
Warner should have thought of that four years ago when he voted to give the President all the war power he asked for and more. As a body, they shirked their responsibility. Their debate was pedestrian and took place as an afterthought. But they gave the President what he wanted because the polls told them to.
A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in early October 2002, showed that 67% of the public approved "of the United States taking military action against Iraq to try to remove Saddam Hussein from power." That was the result even though 51% believed that taking action against Iraq would result in a "long and costly involvement."
Interestingly, the same sample showed that when it came to making decisions about taking the nation to war, the public wanted Congress to more fully exercise its constitutional responsibility. Then, 51% told pollsters that Congress was "not asking enough questions" about the administration’s plans.
Now the polls show that the public is fed up and congressional Democrats and Republicans are laying their mistake at the doorstep of the White House. Mr. Bush’s personal and job approval ratings are at all time lows. And because members of Congress are politically craven and poll-driven, they are, one by one, confessing their "mistake" or "regret" or having been "misled" in voting for the war and seeking absolution from a disgusted public. Their resolutions echo Pelosi: "Mr. President," they are saying, "this war is yours, not ours."
In this regard, Mr. Bush does himself no favors. "The Decider," has now decided that he’d rather be called "The Decision Maker." His arrogance has led us to where we are today — believing that he and the Pentagon can fight this war alone. They can’t.
Like it or not, Iraq is America’s war. The President led us there; Congress authorized him to do so; and we the public voted our approval for it at the time. Now, our national security and reputation are on the line.
Will we continue to squabble like children? Or will politicians of both parties put their egos and ambitions aside to work for an American victory in Iraq?