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Democrats need to put up or shut up about Iraq

This week, Congress began debate over a “nonbinding resolution” opposing President Bush’s proposal for a troop surge in Iraq. Rest assured that if such a phrase is confusing to you, or perhaps seems oxymoronic, you are not alone. While the rhetoric was heated, the result was anti-climatic.

Ideological debates such as these in Washington, D.C. have always piqued my interest. Not because of any substantial legislation regularly coming from Capitol Hill, but because politicians act in a way so foreign to the rest of us.

They appropriate billions of dollars for programs when the nation’s fiscal house is not in order, have more recesses than an elementary school class and use the lectern to rail against opponents in hopes of creating the next big sound byte.

Certainly the situation in Iraq is not good, and just about everyone I know is tired of hearing about it. The assumptions going into the war were incorrect, the planning was not the best and the end is nowhere in sight. The problem, however, is that nonbinding resolutions opposing the president’s plan don’t get America any closer to ending the war.

I am by no means a defender of the president’s policy, but the results of the midterm election made the nonbinding resolution’s result obvious. The House of Representatives, with the larger Democratic majority, passed the resolution while Saturday’s Senate vote fell four votes short of the number necessary to end debate and have a full Senate vote. Not that surprising of an outcome for the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate.

Surely this week’s menagerie will not be the end of the wrangling over a conflict that has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. But this resolution didn’t really have any teeth to it. The purpose of the vote, especially for Democrats with presidential aspirations, is to hedge their bet that the surge won’t work.

But the American people shouldn’t let these Democrats off the hook. The message must be sent that simply arming themselves with “I told you so” in opposition to the president’s foreign policy escapades is not enough.

That is why the Democratic majority, if they feel so strongly that the president is pursuing the wrong course, should openly advocate a cut in war funding. Let’s have that debate in Congress and put Representatives and Senators alike on record with an up or down vote for withholding money from the effort.

Up to this point, Democrats seemed unlikely to propose such legislation for fear of giving the perception that they don’t support the troops. But the only reason that would be believed is if the Republicans were successful in erroneously framing the debate that way. Leadership in the majority party must convince America that they care more about the troops by advocating their return now, rather than pursuing the president’s flawed policy – something they apparently aren’t ready to do.

Democrats are unwilling to back such legislation for fear of alienating some voters going into the much-heralded 2008 presidential election. The posturing has already begun, and Sen. Hillary Clinton’s nuanced explanations of her vote to give the president authorization for military action in Iraq shows that discerning voters are scrutinizing every word.

The truth is that American voters are smart enough to see this week’s nonbinding resolution as weak and ineffective, as well as Bush’s Iraq policies as flawed. At this point, Democrats must either put up legislation to cut war funding or shut up.

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.