Yesterday, MH went through the exercise of analyzing Sen. Tester's decision of how to respond to the MoveOn.org ad attacking Gen. Petraeus. It was hardly a matter of great importance -- these votes amounted to deciding how to posture in response to a posture.
The more meaty votes related to the Iraq War were votes that failed, with Sens. Baucus and Tester voting with the bulk of Democrats (the losing side of the votes) on two of the three.
The one that came closest to passing was one mandating a set amount of time out of Iraq for soldiers -- of the three, it was ironically perhaps the measure that was farthest from the authority that Congress has over military matters. If anything is the responsibility of the chain of command, it is the decision of where to assign whom, and for how long.
Failing by an even wider margin (mustering a mere 47 votes) was a measure setting timetables for withdrawal. Again, this is a matter that belongs to the chain of command -- how many troops to have in the theater of action.
Failing by the most dramatic margin of all was the Feingold amendment setting an absolute deadline for cutting off funds. Sens. Tester and Baucus voted against this measure, even though it was the only measure of the three that came closest to being within the authority of the Congress.
While Montana Headlines has opposed this war from the beginning, our position has remained that there is only one clearly legitimate means by which Congress can unilaterally end it: passing a new Iraq resolution that clearly rescinds the authorization for use of force that Congress previously gave the President.
Even that is uncharted territory, but it would give Congress clear justification for cutting off funding. Given that the vote to cut off funding lost 28 to 70, and given that no bill has been passed rescinding the earlier authorization of force, it is clear that neither party is remotely ready to exercise Congress's true authority regarding war.
What is sad about this war is that it is the result of political failures on the result of both parties: a failure of clear thinking and internal debate on the part of Republicans, and a failure of nerve on the part of Democrats fearing to be saddled with the political liability of being called weak on issues of national security.
Part of the Democrats' job was, incidentally, made more difficult because of Bill Clinton's own dirty little senseless war in the Balkans. When Clinton put the American military to work helping solidify the Muslim European toehold in the Balkans, it made it difficult to vote against use of force after Muslim terrorists directly attacked American soil.
The bottom line is that while Democrats and Republicans alike can posture on the war for political purposes, there is no end game by which either party can come out smelling pretty.
Both parties are complicit in getting us into the war, and neither party can get America quickly out of the war without leaving the Middle East and the world a more dangerous place than it was when Iraq was first invaded.
We are in a situation where even if the President and his advisers and the leadership of both parties worked in a truly bipartisan manner to end the war in a way that made for the most stability and security, America would still be hard-pressed to find a good ending for the Iraq War.
As it is, with both parties clinging to delusions that there is a way to use Iraq come up with a partisan "win," we will never have a chance to see whether we as Americans could bring the matter to a close in a way that doesn't cause harm to our country's interests and reputation.