Pelosian hon­esty and the new bi­par­ti­san­ship

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

When Mo­han­das Gandhi (aka, “The Ma­hatma” — the great soul) was asked what he thought about West­ern civ­i­liza­tion, the heir to 5,000 years of Hindu civ­i­liza­tion re­sponded: “It would be a very good idea.” In that spirit of the new Wash­ing­ton bi­par­ti­san­ship (we will see uni­corns graz­ing on the Capi­tol lawns and li­ons lay­ing down with lambs in Wash­ing­ton’s green and gen­tle Ar­ca­dian fields be­fore we ac­tu­ally spot gen­uine bi­par­ti­san­ship in Wash­ing­ton) I am de­lighted to fully en­dorse Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s re­cent call for hon­est talk both with her col­leagues and with the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Of course, hon­esty is in lit­tle dan­ger of ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing very of­ten.

I had my first en­counter with Pelosian hon­esty two weeks ago — as prac­ticed by sev­eral lib­eral Democrats on the var­i­ous ra­dio and television dis­cus­sions in which I par­tic­i­pated (and else­where) — on the thorny po­lit­i­cal ques­tion of whether the Demo­cratic-con­trolled Congress will cut off the money for Pres­i­dent Bush’s im­mi­nent call for more troops to Iraq.

To re­view the bid­ding: (1) The Democrats cheer­fully cam­paigned all last year on “re­de­ploy­ing” our troops out of Iraq, (2) now that they are in charge, many of their vot­ers want and ex­pect them to leg­is­late their cam­paign prom­ise, and (3) the Democrats want to con­tinue to ex­press their un­flinch­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion to op­pose the war and bring the troops home.

Their prob­lem is that many Demo­cratic Party lead­ers don’t want to ac­tu­ally cut off the money nec­es­sary to fight the war for fear that if things go badly, they might be held re­spon­si­ble by the vot­ers in 2008 for a Mid­dle East catas­tro­phe. So, two weeks ago many of their spokes­men and jour­nal­is­tic hand­maid­ens (and hand­squires) de­nied that Congress had the power to cut off the war money, par­tic­u­larly for the new troops that the pres­i­dent will pre­sum­ably be send­ing over soon.

For ex­am­ple, Sen. Joe Bi­den ques­tioned whether Congress has the “con­sti­tu­tional” power to do so. One of the pan­elists on “The McLaugh­lin Group” as­serted to me that Mr. Bush has enough money “slosh­ing around the Pen­tagon” not to need new con­gres­sion­ally ap­pro­pri­ated money. But of course, the pres­i­dent can­not spend the al­ready ap­pro­pri­ated de­fense funds willy-nilly. If Congress ap­pro­pri­ated funds for buy­ing tanks, he can’t take that money and use it to pay troops, for ex­am­ple.

To make up for their po­lit­i­cal hes­i­ta­tion in us­ing their law­ful power to cut off the dol­lars, they are su­per­charg­ing their rhetoric. When I was on “Hard­ball” two weeks ago, Demo­cratic Rep. Deb- bie Wasser­man Schultz charm­ingly waxed wrath over what she would do to those ras­cally Repub­li­cans in the White House. She would, among other things, “hold their feet to the fire” (which sounds worse than wa­ter-board­ing). The one thing she wouldn’t quite say was that she would ac­tu­ally vote to cut off the money. And, with­out wish­ing to dep­re­cate the mer­its and value of the con­gress­woman’s words, I sus­pect that the pres­i­dent would be more deeply af­fected by her vote cut­ting off the money than by her words of earnest chas­tise­ment of his pol­icy.

So let’s fol­low Speaker Pelosi’s sage ad­vice and speak hon­estly to the Amer­i­can peo­ple about the war. The pres­i­dent will fairly soon need a sup­ple­men­tal ap­pro­pri­a­tion to fund the next tranche of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At that time, the Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate can pass a bill that ap­pro­pri­ates money for some things and not for oth­ers. They can, for in­stance, pass a bill that says that not one dol­lar may be spent to fund fur­ther com­bat pay for troop lev­els above a cer­tain level in Iraq. The pres­i­dent can veto such leg­is­la­tion (as Bill Clin­ton did of some Gin­grich-era ap­pro­pri­a­tions — thus shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment). But he can’t get a sin­gle new penny un­til Congress passes and he signs a bill.

To be clear, the pres­i­dent has the con­sti­tu­tional author­ity as com­man­der-in-chief to send the ex­tra troops into bat­tle. But he also will need the money to send them.

While Mrs. Pelosi her­self has now raised the pos­si­bil­ity of cut- ting off money (good for her hon­esty on this point — though not for her pol­icy), her min­ions are still try­ing to have it both ways — they want to pla­cate their an­ti­war sup­port­ers, but not end the war.

And, let me chal­lenge the Repub­li­cans, too, while I am on my ji­had against po­lit­i­cal par­ties not hon­estly de­fend­ing their po­si­tions even though they “can in­deed be de­fended, but only by ar­gu­ments which are too bru­tal for most peo­ple to face, and which do not square with the pro­fessed aims of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties.” (Ge­orge Or­well, “Pol­i­tics and the English Lan­guage”)

The ex­pected troop in­crease in Iraq is not a surge — a surge be­ing a tran­sient, sud­den rise. There is no plau­si­ble mil­i­tary the­ory which would rely on a brief in­crease in troop strength fol­lowed by the im­me­di­ate with­drawal of such troops from Iraq.

The troops would surely be in theatre for an in­def­i­nite pe­riod. The words es­ca­la­tion, re­in­force­ments or higher sus­tained troop lev­els would all be hon­est. The word “surge” is de­cep­tive.

While it would be im­prac­ti­cal to ex­pect bru­tal ver­bal hon­esty in pol­i­tics on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, when we are talk­ing about war and peace, about life and death of our young cit­i­zen war­riors, we owe them (and our­selves) as much hon­est talk as we can muster.

Tony Blank­ley is edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor of The Times. He can be reached via e-mail at tblank­ley@wash­ing­ton­

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