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Democrats Must Not Fold: Hold Bush Accountable at Retreat

January is all but over, and what an active month it has been. For many, especially the newly empowered Democrats, this has been a month of celebrations and getting down to the people’s business by passing important pieces of legislation. We’ve also heard President Bush give his second-to-last State of the Union address and, more importantly, we are monitoring those who would like to have his job in the future. [IMGCAP(1)]

Bush, who visited House Republicans last week on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, also is planning to drop by the House Democratic retreat this weekend in Williamsburg, Va. The president, while continuing his appeal to critics and supporters alike to give his new policy in Iraq a chance to succeed, is expected to take just five questions. Let’s hope the Democrats, unlike the Republicans, who had a chance to field 15 questions, will not be afraid to discuss the one issue on everyone’s mind these days: Iraq and the plan to add more troops.

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the charge that critics of the administration’s plan for a troop surge will aid the enemy. A similar charge has been made by others, including Vice President Cheney and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. Once again, this is an old and tired, but not unexpected, argument by those who wish to simply stay the course and not come up with a strategy that would transition our mission, as most Americans believe, from combat to helping train the Iraqi forces and assisting with border security.

The choice between quiet acquiescence to a policy most Americans now believe is fundamentally wrong and calling on Members of Congress to resist that policy with all their might could just be a no-brainer. As inconvenient and messy as it might be, we should count our blessings that it’s a choice we are allowed to make, and the administration should welcome and encourage this debate. To call on Congress to curtail this debate with a filibuster or to suggest that those offering various resolutions are somehow “aiding and abetting the enemy” is totally absurd and offensive.

This democracy stuff sure is messy sometimes, huh? Here’s what I would ask the president:

Mr. President, could you please clarify which enemy would we embolden? Is it the Sunnis who are angry about losing power and fear being subjugated by the Shia majority? Is it the Shia militias who want revenge for Saddam Hussein’s (Sunni) tyrannical oppression? Is it foreign fighters (including al-Qaida) who have entered Iraq to foment aggression and kill Americans in the process? I would argue the enemy is the latter; the others seem more interested in killing each other while our courageous troops are just getting in the way.

The premise that the nonbinding, bipartisan resolutions currently being considered in Congress give comfort to and embolden these enemies is predicated on an assumption that the enemies are not aware of the debate that has been occurring here about the war. To honestly think these enemies, with access to the Internet, satellite TV and newspapers, are unaware of our national mood and growing unease with the administration’s strategy is either pretty naive or pretty foolish.

So what are our options? The first is to execute the administration’s war strategy and quietly hope for the best. The original premise would preclude any discussion or concern about the progress of the war, as this would show uncertainty on our part and encourage our enemy. The second option is to convince the administration to change course. This option tends to be noisy and showy and exposes the soft underbelly of our republic. It’s this soft underbelly that, in my opinion, is one of the great things about our country: our freedom to have a no-holds-barred debate on our country’s course and direction.

Does that debate embolden our enemy? Perhaps it could. Is that justification to stifle our discussion and debate and to prevent open questioning of the conduct and course our nation takes? Never. Not to me. Any enemy who takes away our ability to internally debate our strategies has beaten us; it doesn’t matter what the battle scorecard says.

Those arguing the premise that there should be no debate obviously have a vested interest in a specific course and are, no doubt, embarrassed by the spectacle of our disarray. It would be a lot easier to implement their policy without putting up much resistance. Well, I would argue: “been there and done that” for the past four years.

The bottom line, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently stated upon return from the region, is to help the Iraqi government find a political solution and to continue to help the government rid its country of these unwanted elements such as al-Qaida.

The current U.S. occupation (along with a dwindling number of coalition forces) of Iraq is just a drop in the bucket when you have 1,300 years to avenge; they, clearly, have a lot of patience. But for many Americans, our patience with the incompetent mismanagement of the war has grown thin. It’s time we have this debate and discussion in Congress. I hope the House Democrats tell the president to stay tuned.

Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.

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