Iraq supplemental debate: both sides are right

Reading Don's interview with MoveOn's Wes Boyd and Joan Blades -- and the comments that followed -- left me with the same feeling that I had last week following the back-and-forth over the Iraq supplemental: both sides of the debate are absolutely correct.

On its face, of course it's ludicrous to give Bush hundreds of billions more for Iraq and call it a bill to end the war. And, yes, Congress does have the power of the purse and, yes, it is perfectly within its rights to use that power. As I've written before, it's also true that the situation on the ground in Iraq is such that any measure that doesn't force the issue is inherently immoral.

I don't think Americans sent dozens of Democrats to Congress to give the Bushies a blank check to continue their war. I also agree that there is a not insignificant number of Dems who are so terrified of being called weak by the right-wing noise machine that they're no longer capable of doing the right thing when it comes to war and peace.

So Code Pink and AfterDowningStreet and Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey and everyone else who opposed the supplemental were (are) right.

But that doesn't make MoveOn and Nancy Pelosi and David Sirota and much of the "netroots" and everyone who worked hard to pass that supplemental wrong. The reality is that they had a chance to get Congress to pass a bill that was a first step towards ending the war and they had no chance whatsoever of getting them to cut off funds or to set a final, short timetable for withdrawal. They simply didn't have the votes -- that's the reality. It's pointless to push legislation -- even good legislation -- if you know going in that it's cooked (actually, there is a point in some circumstances, but that's a topic for another time).

The argument that ending a war is a major undertaking that requires a cohesive strategy is not wrong. Generally speaking, isolating Bush from Republicans in Congress while presenting the appearance (at least) of Democratic unity against the occupation is a good overall strategy.

The troubling thing about how the debate played out was that opponents of the war -- both sides fir that description -- seem to have a difficult time disagreeing with one another respectfully. Opponents of the supplemental were branded as wild-eyed lefties who were too stupid to grasp the nuance of what was going on; supporters were supposedly sell-outs, shills for the military-industrial complex.

The reality is that we need both wild-eyed activists in the streets and people working the halls of Congress. That's exactly what an inside-outside strategy is supposed to look like. Consider the fair trade movement: we've effectively stopped the WTO expansion process in its tracks and we did it by rioting outside, and sending progressive trade lawyers, legislative staffers and analysts in suits and ties inside to work the delegates -- to work the system. Neither side would be as effective were it not for the existence of the other.

Any really large political undertaking is well-served in bringing pressure from different directions and with different styles. That's a lesson the anti-war movement would do well to learn.

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