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Antiwar Forces Resigned to Another Loss

Lost somewhat amid the hubbub yesterday of Republicans using a parliamentary trick to bring down funding for Iraq and Afghanistan was the fact that another piece of the supplemental package, backed by antiwar members, did pass the House and will now move on to the Senate.

But does that mean antiwar lawmakers were rejoicing in the aisles? Will Congress finally force an end to the war? No. Or at least, not this year.

The second part of the Democrats legislative trifecta, which passed 227-196, would mandate that troops start coming home from Iraq within 30 days, with a "goal" of removing all combat forces by December 2009. The measure also requires the Iraqi government to pay for more of the country's reconstruction costs and for the U.S. mililtary to be able to buy fuel there at the same subsidized rates that Iraqis get.

And the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday reported out its own version of the supplemental, which also includes nonbinding language calling for troops to come home by 2009. But no one on either side of the aisle expects any substantive withdrawal language to make it through the Senate and its 60-vote hurdle for passage, meaning antiwar lawmakers will fail once again to force President Bush to change his Iraq policy (and Bush would veto any such bill if it reached his desk anyway).

Republicans are in dire political straits right now. Shouldn't more of them be changing their tune on Iraq?

"Well, you would think, but I haven't seen it," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), a leader of the House's antiwar faction. "I really don't think [Republicans] are in the habit of helping Democrats."

Indeed, only eight Republicans voted in favor of the withdrawal measure yesterday, along with 219 Democrats. But polls seem to indicate the public wants decisive change. A national survey just released by Quinnipiac University found that 67 percent of respondents disapproved of Bush's handling of Iraq, 62 percent believe that going to war was the "wrong thing" for the country, 22 percent want to withdraw troops "as soon as possible" and 48 percent believe we should "set a timetable" for withdrawal.

So why hasn't that public sentiment decisively influenced Congress?

"That's the $64,000 question. It's a tough one," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a top lieutenant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Miller said voters were frustrated with the war and want troops to come home, "But I think they essentially now understand that we're not going to get an effective cutoff [of troop deployments] through the Senate and signed by the president."

Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), a moderate Republican with a mixed record on voting for withdrawal measures, said the public wants troops to come home but also understands the consequences of a hasty withdrawal. "They don't want us to lose. They don't want chaos," Shays said.

Only eight months remain in the Bush presidency, and Miller and other Democrats said they are resigned to the fact that no real change will come to Iraq policy until (they hope) their party takes over the White House next January. In the meantime, Bush will continue to get his way no matter what the antiwar members -- or the polls -- say.

By Ben Pershing  |  May 16, 2008; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Iraq  
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