by Frank James
Earlier in the week, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid left the impression that congressional Democrats would be pushing hard next year to rein in the Iraq War, despite their repeated inability to impose a time line this year.
That's certainly the message he left reporters with at a Wednesday press conference he held with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders.
REPORTER: Senator Reid, could you talk a little bit about what you plan to do in the new year on the Iraq issue? Are you going to try to change your focus a little bit here?
SEN. REID: We have -- there is some discrepancy as to votes. We've had 33 or 40 votes on Iraq, and we're going to have more votes on Iraq. We're going to continue putting our pedal to the metal. We're going to push on this. The American people are dissatisfied with what's going on.
And all we need to do is look at one of your newspapers. The Washington Post today in a very long article said extensive reviews in Iraq indicate that all people in Iraq, different Shi'a sects -- different Shi'a sects, all the Sunni sects, believe that the problem in Iraq is based on that invasion that took place almost five years ago; and they further believe that we're an occupying force and the only way things are going to work out in Iraq is if we get out of there. That's how the Iraqis feel. And we're going to continue pushing for the reasons that we want our troops home but also to stop bleeding red ink.
REPORTER: (Off mike) -- more next year on domestic -- spending more floor time on domestic issues than you spent on Iraq this year, changing that a little bit?
SEN. REID: As I have to remind you folks once in a while, in Iraq -- we're in the majority, but a little over a year ago, Tim Johnson got real sick, and until September, our majority was 50-49. We did remarkably well with that small majority because Joe Lieberman votes with us on everything except Iraq. But on Iraq, those 32 votes or 40 votes, whatever we had, he voted with the Republicans. We were in the minority. But we still pushed on because we believed we were headed in the right direction, and we still believe that.
We're not going to back off. As to how -- we're going to continue to push. When there are opportunities to speak our mind legislatively on Iraq, we're going to continue to do that.
To some who heard that, it could've sounded like the old joke about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing that failed repeatedly to work before and expecting different results.
With congressional Republicans buoyed by the power that came from their unified front with the White House, the Democrats have little to no chance next year of beating the presidential vetoes or Senate filibusters that hamstrung them this year.
But evidently, Congressional Democrats don't plan on beating their heads against the wall.
According to the Politico today, there's rising dissatisfaction among congressional Democrats with how the Iraq issue played out over the last year.
Junior Democrats describe an “Iraq fatigue” setting in among some members after dozens of successful withdrawal votes failed to drive a wedge between Republicans and President Bush on the war strategy.
The restless Democrats acknowledge the war issue remains critically important for the country, but they would like to see their leaders tone down the rhetoric and avoid showdowns with Bush over the war, wherever possible...
Senior Democrats and leadership aides suggest that Reid and Pelosi, despite their strong rhetoric on ending the war, are not talking about simply forcing more withdrawal votes, as that strategy of repeated pullout votes has not worked in forcing a hoped-for split between Bush and Republicans in Congress.
Instead, Democrats plan to continue to focus on troop readiness and benchmarks for political reconciliation among Iraqi leaders, and to push Bush to accelerate any withdrawals called for by Petraeus and to engage in a broader “diplomatic surge” to accompany the military surge.
Will this be enough to satisfy MoveOn.org, CodePink and other aggressively antiwar groups? No, not even close.
But with polls indicating that more Americans see progress in Iraq, the pressure on Democrats over the war should be somewhat relieved except for the most ardent anti-war supporters.
And as the article notes, if the new president in January 2009 is a Democrat, the Iraq strategy will almost certainly change.
By default, the timetable of presidential politics could, in effect, become the timetable for significant U.S. troop withdrawals that many opposed to the war have been demanding.