With their plan to set a deadline for pulling our troops out of Iraq, Democrats in Congress are proving the wisdom of an old maxim: Nothing is so bad that it can't be made worse.
The war is a disaster and President Bush has been a lousy commander in chief, with the disgraceful treatment of wounded warriors the latest proof. The public is sick of the mess and wants the war to end yesterday.
Voter disgust gave Democrats their midterm election victories. But now that they have power, Dems are stumped about how to turn anti-Bush slogans into policy. After weeks of fiddling around with various pieces of legislation and resolutions, their leaders have hit on something the party is rallying around.
Unfortunately, the solution they've settled on - binding legislation to pull all combat troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008 - is the worst one possible.
Think of the impact around the world. If you're the enemy, you know you've won - all you have to do is wait for us to ship out. If you're one of our G.I.s, you're being told to keep risking your life, but however it turns out, we're bringing you home on an arbitrary schedule. If you're an Iraqi civilian friendly to us, we're leaving you to the wolves.
If you're the nut job president of Iran, whoopee, you've driven the Great Satan off the battlefield. If you're Osama bin Laden, you raise a glass of camel pee to toast a victory over the infidels. And if you're one of our allies in Europe or Asia, you wonder what the hell is going on in America.
Like I said, this "solution" takes a bad situation and makes it worse.
Ultimately, the legislation would come to nothing because Bush has promised to veto it. No doubt that's partially why some Dems are hedging their bets. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had advocated a cap on troops and opposed a deadline, says now she supports the new plan but insists it really isn't a deadline, despite what Majority Leader Harry Reid says.
"It's a goal, it's not a hard deadline, it's a goal," Clinton told The New York Times. "We're just trying to create some pressure on the president. That's the whole point here."
She better tell that to Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who wants to pull the troops out by the end of this year. If Clinton votes for any deadline when the Senate bill comes up next week, she'll be for it, no matter how she tortures the meaning of "is." Surely she doesn't want to go down the road of "I voted for it, but I was really against it." A similar whopper about her 2002 vote supporting the invasion isn't exactly a best seller on the campaign trail.
Therein lies the Dems' dilemma, especially those with White House ambitions. The war is off the tracks and Bush won't listen to reason. Troop requirements for his surge are growing beyond the promised 21,500, and our new commander says even more may be needed, and for a long time. Even then there is no guarantee Iraqis will choose reconciliation over slaughter, or that their government will be more than a front for warlords.
All of which means there are no good answers in Iraq or at home. There are only bad ones, and worse ones. Then there is the worst of all - a fixed deadline for withdrawal.
- Michael Goodwin is a columnist for the New York Daily News.