David Kurtz at Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo has posted the best summary I've seen of the politics of the Iraq War as they stand right now.
Definitely read the whole thing. I would summarize his main points as follows.
* Public sentiment is already so much against the war that it's hard to see how Congressional hearings or anything else could significantly increase the number of people opposing it.
* The Baker-Hamilton/ISG study was a non-starter as far as Cheney and Bush were concerned. They're pushing ahead with escalating the war.
* The so-called New Way Forward, aka, "staying the course" only with more troops and new marketing slogans, will become a way for Cheney and Bush to posture for their Unilateral Executive theory of power against Congress. They will implement the troop increase in such a way as to make it look like their successfully shoving down the throats of the Democratic Congress.
* Incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will go along with Cheney on continuing the war. (More on that below.)
The only real criticism I would have of Kurtz' summary is that his post shares the current bipartisan consensus that how long the US troops stay in Iraq is for all practical purposes purely an American decision. It's not. If the Shi'a-dominated Iraqi government disintegrates, if the Shi'a militias turn full force on the Americans, if the Cheney and Bush bomb Iran, we could literally be looking at a flat-out military rout. Not because American troops aren't well-trained. But because their supply lines and escape routes run through Shi'a territory in the south and the Shi'a militias could well cut them or block them for extended periods of time. Even the best-trained soldiers need bullets and food and fuel.
The Congressional Democrats need to get out of their near-paranoia about not looking as "tough" as the Republicans. Good Lord, Cheney and Bush just did a war in Iraq in exactly the way blowhard Republican white guys have been saying it should be done for the last 30 years. And it's a disaster, and a huge majority of the American public sees that it's a disaster.
One thing the Dems need to get over in particular is the notion that exercising their Constitutional responsibility over war and peace is *not* failing to "support The Troops". Cheerleading mindlessly isn't "supporting the troops", it's being irresponsible. Cheney isn't going to be willing to let Bush sign any appropriation bills that contain restrictions on their war-making discretion in Iraq. And they're unlikely to get by the Senate, in any case, since there is a prowar majority of 49 Senators from the authoritarian Republican Party plus Bush's faithful lackey Joe Lieberman plus Dark Lord Cheney as a tie-breaking vote.
But that doesn't mean the Democrats shouldn't use Congressional proposals of various kinds to highlight the disastrous nature of the Cheney-Bush war policies.
I would also say that even though Kurtz has a good point in that with so much opposition to the war, it's hard to see how the opposition could get much bigger. But that doesn't mean the effect of Congressional hearings will be negligible. If done with even a minimum of effort on the Democrats' part, hearings could among other things make the public aware of how precarious the American position in Iraq really is. Plus, being opposed to the war doesn't mean that some people can't be scared into opposing antiwar measures if the bigoted Republican propaganda about war critics supporting The Terrorists isn't effectively countered. Hearings that lay out the real American situation in Iraq could go a long way toward combatting that poisonous brand of McCarthyism.
But the peace movement is going to have to keep the pressure on the Democrats. Especially in the Senate, there will be a terrible temptation to duck confronting Cheney and Bush over the war if the Senators are calculating that since they probably can't pass specifics antiwar measures that it's better to duck the issue as much as possible. Politics is politics, and the most sincerely antiwar politicians still need public pressure to do what needs to be done.
Here are Kurtz' comments about the Gates nomination:
The relief and excitement that greeted Gates' nomination seemed all out of proportion then and even more so now. Gates caught official Washington, and many Democrats, on the rebound. If Rumsfeld was the bad boyfriend, then Gates swept everyone off their feet simply by being soft-spoken and listening. So instead of using the hearings on the Gates' nomination as the starting point for a debate on Iraq policy, it became a bipartisan lovefest. The myth that the ISG report would somehow save the day has already been exploded. The adults are not in charge; Cheney still is. I would expect that Cheney and Rumsfield conspired in the last few weeks of Rumsfeld's tenure to start the ball rolling on the New Way Forward with the intention of constraining Gates' options.
I continue to think that giving Gates such an easy ride in the Senate was a serious mistake. Cheney and Bush have been using the time between the November election and the new Congress in January to position themselves to continue and escalate the Iraq War. The House Democrats seem to have made better use of the time than the Senators.
But however unpopular Bush's war in Iraq is, Democrats are not going to benefit politically for being right on the war unless they *fight* about the war. We saw that in this year's elections. The establishment Democrats wanted to try to ignore the war and campaign on economic issues. The Connecticut Senate primary where Ned Lamont took the nomination from war fans Lieberman was a big part of what alerted the Democrats that their opposition to the war was a winning issue. You would have thought they could have figured it out from the polls showing overwhelming public opposition.
But as long as they get to the right place, i.e., actively opposing the Iraq War, I don't particularly care what turns on the light for them.