What does the passage of this legislation mean? Not much. Some want to see the passage of this legislation as some sort of redemptive moment for those Democrats who split from the Party to fund the Iraq supplemental without any meaningful binding restrictions, like Gabbi and Harry. It's emphatically not.
The reason is that this bill has absolutely no teeth. There is no enforcement mechanism. No consequences for non-compliance. And absolutely no chance in hell it will survive Mr. 26%'s veto pen, nor garner enough votes to over-ride. The bill is little more than a glorified whip count that will succeed at nothing but handing ammunition to those few 2008 opponents foolish enough to run in support of the Iraq war. As such, it is perfectly emblematic of a Democratic caucus unwilling to do anything politically astute or effective to actually force its will on the Administration.
Gabbi has certainly been honest about her intentions on Iraq. She clearly indicated that her intent was to wait until a 'wedge' within the GOP formed behind the idea of ending the Iraq war. Once a bi-partisan coalition is possible, only then we would see some effective action. Many Democratic Congresscritters hope any blame for the consequences of a withdrawal would thus be spread between the parties. Unfortunately for us, the credit for ending the war might well go to the defecting GOP faction; to the bold goes the glory. That might not sound like too bad of a deal to skittish Democrats, but it could be disaster for 2008, and more importantly, it will certainly spell disaster for many of our soldiers as we wait for the GOP to eat its own.
Nor is there a clear national security message emerging from Congress - even the bits we supposedly control. Lieberman has generated a lot of ill-will from many already disposed to wish him ill with his Amendment to the Defense Authorization bill calling for regular reports on Iranian activity in Iraq.
The Amendment does not, as has been widely claimed, announce that Iran has committed acts of war against the United States. Rather, it rolls through a long list of claims and opinions about Iranian involvement in supporting this and that and ends with a sense of Congress that reads:
(b) Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that--
(1) the murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable and unacceptable act of hostility against the United States by the foreign government in question; and
(2) the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran must take immediate action to end all training, arming, equipping, funding, advising, and any other forms of support that it or its agents are providing, and have provided, to Iraqi militias and insurgents, who are contributing to the destabilization of Iraq and are responsible for the murder of members of the United States Armed Forces.
(1) IN GENERAL.--Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every 60 days thereafter, the Commander, Multi-National Forces Iraq and the United States Ambassador to Iraq shall jointly submit to Congress a report describing and assessing in detail--
(A) the external support or direction provided to anti-coalition forces by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran or its agents;
(B) the strategy and ambitions in Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and
(C) any counter-strategy or efforts by the United States Government to counter the activities of agents of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Iraq.
(2) FORM.--Each report required under paragraph (1) shall be in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.
There is no statement that any act of war has been committed by Iran. Admittedly, it stops just an inch short of connecting the dots, and is surely dangerously prone to exactly the sort of exaggeration and misunderstanding that has resulted, but it's not the equivalent of handing Bush a causus beli. Anyone who decides not to vote for Obama or Clinton based on this vote is a fool. On the other hand, it clearly lays down a marker and creates a regular report under the control of the Pentagon that can easily be used to gin up a case for war against Iran. That is cause for concern.
The Lieberman Amendment was surely meant as a further prod to war fever even as we are trying to wind down our last military mistake. Lieberman may salivate to bomb Iran into flinders, but it is not in America's national interest to start a war with Iran, which is perhaps the last remaining nation in the Middle East where the United States is still popular among the citizens.
What does all this add up to? Not much. The brass tacks are this: Congress will not be able to stop the war, short of a major revolt within the GOP, without plugging the money spigot or removing the President and Vice-President. The former takes not a single vote, only control of the agenda, which we have. The later takes only a majority vote in the House to initiate (which we could easily achieve) and 2/3rds in the Senate (which we could certainly achieve with all the ammunition this Administration has given us).
Those who hold out hope of a bi-partisan coalition to end the war while there is no major GOP Presidential candidate running on an anti-Iraq war platform are waiting in vain. Unless there is a champion to take advantage of the GOP's mojo from doing the right thing, there will be no serious move to do the right thing. If a major anti-war figure (Hagel, Warner, maybe Ron Paul explodes...) jumps into the GOP race before September or so, then Gabbi's bi-partisan kumbaya might happen. Until then, the only roads out of Iraq run through the treasury or the dock.