In the Senate, a sucker punch on Iraq

Harry Reid says he's not done yet, but for now opponents of the war look even more impotent than before.

Published February 6, 2007 2:19PM (EST)

For Americans who thought the midterm elections would bring a change of course in Iraq, Monday's proceedings in the U.S. Senate felt like the blow of a sucker punch. The Democrats hold a majority in the Senate. A significant number of Republicans have expressed strong opposition to the president's new plan for the war. And yet when it came time to debate even a watered-down, nonbinding resolution that would have done nothing more than express disapproval of part of the president's plan -- well, all those senators so recently empowered to chart a new course couldn't even manage to get the debate opened.

A senior Democratic aide tells the Washington Post that Harry Reid left the Capitol Monday night "confident that he is holding a winning hand." That may be true, but only within the context of the cards he has been dealt. If matters had moved to a vote or votes this week, there's a very real chance -- maybe even a certainty -- that the Senate would have passed just one of the Iraq resolutions floating around out there -- a proposal from Judd Gregg that says that the president has the power to deploy troops and that Congress is bound to provide funding when he does. If that's the reality Reid was facing Monday night, then he came out of it about as well as he possibly could have: He avoided the vote, and he has made it look as if the Republicans are to blame for stopping the debate.

But we doubt that many Americans went to the polls in November thinking to themselves, "I hope that the Democrats can win a news cycle in February." What many of them wanted was a way out of Iraq. The Warner-Levin resolution was something less than that, and the Democrats couldn't even deliver a real debate on it, let alone a vote in favor of it. Indeed, they couldn't even deliver a simple majority in favor of a debate on it.

Winning hand? Yes, the Republicans look pretty bad right now. Yes, the parties are going to keep negotiating. And yes, Reid is promising that the Senate will ultimately have the debate on Iraq that the American people plainly want. But for now, the president has his escalation, and the 70 percent of Americans who who oppose his handling of the war are left feeling more impotent than ever before. The enemy was never going to be "emboldened" by any of this, but George W. Bush has got to be feeling that he is.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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