Political Math and the Iraq War

Even if you are a math geek, political math is pretty tricky. I may not have fared so well in calculus oh so many years ago, but to this day I still think it’s a little simpler and definitely a lot more fair than the mathematics of American politics.

The main reasoning behind this is that while in virtually every other discipline under the arithmatic banner two plus two equals four, in politics, this is rarely the case.

Sometimes two plus two equals three, others, it equals five. Still, on some days, two plus two equals a massive headache that usually can only be drowned out with a liberal dousing in beer.

So I suppose I shouldn’t have been all that shocked when, following the passage of the Iraq War Appropriations bill, there was a large outcry from the anti-war left. Despite the addition of benchmarks, something that only months ago Bush would have vetoed but now gratefully signed into law, this wouldn’t be enough.

And if this were a perfect world, it wouldn’t be. If politics and governance operated by normal math, than yeah, we got the majority, it’s time to bring the troops home, bring them home now, and let’s move on. But we’re dealing with political math here.

The real problem with political math is that there is never a one hundred percent correct answer. Even Social Security, the most successful socia program in American history, is not one hundred percent correct, garnering the ire of many anti-tax, do-it-yourselfer libertarians and big business I’m in it for myself and the rest of you can go pack sand types.

You just can’t please everyone, and it is so often with a population as diverse and different minded that the best answers are also the ones that piss the most people off.

But there is other math at work here, the ones that you really see the outraged left spouting off with no end. We have the majority, we should keep sending the president the same bill over and over again until he signs it.

If wishes were horses.

The problem is that this gambit is subject to the laws of probability and political math, and, quoth the magic eight ball, “Outlook Not Good.”

It’s a pretty characteristic trait of those of us over here on the left that we want our cake, we want to eat it too, and if it doesn’t taste just right, we go ahead and stand in a circle and start shooting each other until everyone’s dead, and I’m afraid that is exactly the situation we have found ourselves in, led primarily by a sense of betrayal and disappointment.

But with all of this antipathy, how much effort is spent looking at the math?

In the senate, 60 votes are required to end a filibuster, and 67 votes are required to override a veto. The House, not restricted by rules of a filibuster and cloture, doesn’t have to worry much about that part of the legislative process, but it still has to contend with overriding a veto, which could prove to be an even more daunting task as it would take more votes to turn in order to do so (rougly 80 votes over the 50% margin brings you to 67%).

And then there are polling trends and public approval. A majority of Americans want us out of the war, however; a majority of Republicans don’t, which makes things interesting for those caucuses in the House and Senate in the GOP. Senators and Representatives from deeply red states and districts can make a pretty simple case for voting against the will of America if they are voting on behalf of a populace that is going against the grain of the majority.

But what about Bush? He’s sitting on some all time low polling numbers, but what does he care? He’s not going to run for anything ever again. At this point, public opinion really has little bearing on how he will act, and at this point it’s all about his legacy.

Considering that the bulk of his presidency is defined by Iraq, his legacy can be summed up by a pretty simple calculus; be known for a largely unpopular war, and finally admitting defeat and backing out of it, or staying in until the end of his term, leaving the final judgement on his efforts in Iraq to be a question mark answered by the person who takes his job.

The latter is obviously the more desirable for him. At that point, whomever takes the White House, if they pull out of Iraq, Bush can always say that the lily-livered pol who did that ended the war “just as we were about to turn the corner.”

Even more, it’s difficult for Bush to pull out now, with some breakthrough just around the next bend. Sure, May might have been yet another deadly month, but maybe something really good will happen in June!

And then there are the Democrats. Those weak, no spine having Democrats that gave up the ghost on the fight to end the war, and caved to Bush and the GOP. Damn them! Damn them to Hell!

The big answer everyone wants right now is to the question, why didn’t the Dems stand up? Why did they cave? The thought process here being that if the Dems kept sending the bill back over and over again until either the President or the GOP relents, than we would eventually get our troops back home.

But, this thought process fails to take into account political math. To get an idea on how bad the numbers really stack up against the Democratic party, keep in mind that they can’t even get the requisite number of votes to actually send the already vetoed bill back.

Screw the sixty-seven votes needed to actually affect change, Dems can’t even break a filibuster, nor can they reintroduce a bill. So maybe send the president different bills, right? The Republicans will break for our side eventually, they have to.

Not exactly. Okay, some more math, and an “if/then” statement for all you geeks. If congress can not produce more than 67% support for a bill, then 1 > 535. Or, in other words, the president is more powerful than the House and the Senate.

So what we are banking on in forcing Bush’s hand is at least enough republicans to override the veto, that is the ONLY way that this is going to come to an end, and tragically, the political calculus didn’t look good for the Democrats going into this vote.

Prior to September, Republicans are going to side with Bush. Two thirds of their constituents believe in the war, and this whole, “We’re now on the right track,” malarchy seems to actually be bought. As of this moment, congressional Goppers have no incentive to turn anti war all of a sudden, which means that should the Democrats put forth another defunding the war bill, it too might pass, assuming that all the Democrats like it, but it will also suffer the fate of a veto.

The end result of continuing to not pass legislation that would fund the troops is that, well, the troops would go unfunded. The pentagon earlier this year said that it was good until about early to mid summer, but should our now hypothetical battle go on beyond this time frame, something I’m apt to believe would assuming that the Democrats remain stalwart, you would now be faced with unfunded troops.

Bush is going to keep them there, and Republicans have no reason to change sides, and given the circumstances, this is a situation that is easily spun to their favor, especially given the fact that yesterday was Memorial Day, and all. Does anyone really want to get pinned with not funding the troops on Memorial Day?

A possible backlash here is also that Democrats would lose support from the middle in their attempts to end the war. Keep in mind that non politicos, particularly the middle of the road types, are extremely fickle, and susceptable to well architectured ad blitzes. Imagine, if you will, the shift in public support should Democrats allow funding to lapse. Republicans would go into overdrive to blame them, and the Pentagon would be releasing stats and stories to back them up. Support to end the war could quite feasibly shift to funding the troops because our young men and women are over there risking their lives for pity’s sake.

This highly likely scenario is one that the Democrats could not win, and moreover, could potentially act as a setback in the attempts to ending the war. We must remember that the only thing that is going to get the GOP to join the anti war crowd is the threat of them losing their jobs, and giving the Goppers and Bush ammo to make the only people in DC fighting to actually end the war look bad could significantly reduce this public pressure on congressional Republicans to the point where they don’t have to worry about pulling out anymore, at least not for a while.

In far fewer words, to stand up now is, with this president and this minority party, playing chicken with the troops in the headlights. I can’t imagine what an unfunded war would look like, thankfully I don’t have to, but should Bush persist in keeping troops in Iraq without funding, there will be losses, there will be a need to reallocate resources, and I have little idea on how that would affect the boots on the ground, but I can’t imagine it being good.

As Newsweek’s Howard Fineman put it on Hardball last week, “I don’t know how the Democrats could have played this any better, but I don’t know how they could have played it any worse.”

Iraq is a quagmire, not just logistically, but politically. Logistically, it is such because of the planning, the motivations, and the incompetence with which it has been managed every step of the way. Politically, it is like quicksand because the Republican party has been hijacked by a radical prowar faction that has become the majority despite the non-interventionist roots that dark horse presidential candidate Ron Paul reflect. The status quo is stuck on like glue, and any solutions to the contrary are difficult and ugly.

Which provides us with probably one of the more depressing aspects of what is going on in politics right now. Democrats will be instrumental in ending the Iraqi war, or at least American involvement in it, but they will not get credit for it.

Back when the first war appropriation was sent to the White House and vetoed, not long after, George Will said, and I think rightly so, “Congress has voted to end the war, so it will end… It’s just a matter of when.”

It was that first spark that I think will later be looked upon as the beginning of the end, a largely symbolic gesture. But what Democrats and some of the more level headed followers of politics see is that they can not do this without at least some Republican support, which means that they need some leverage. Until they can hit that 67%, anything and everything that they try will be utterly symbolic and nothing more.

As Speaker Pelosi has made clear, there will be fight over this continuing on through the summer, and congress will continue to have votes that will continue to pressure the president. In July, it is highly suspected that congress will move to, and succeed, in defunding Guantanimo Bay, there will be more controls fought for, but again the big one, the one that we want to see is us out of Iraq.

As Green Day now prophetically has sung, “Wake me up, when September ends.”The key time here is September. This is when we are supposed to get our progress report and decide if things are working or not. Even more importantly, Republicans have gone on the record stating that if things don’t take a turn for the better, their minds will begin changing, falling lockstep with the will of the rest of America.

This is when Democrats need to make their last stand, and undoubtedly will. By then they will either have the support of congressional Goppers, or they won’t, but they’ll have lots of juicy tidbits and soundbites to throw back in their faces should they not follow through on their promises.

And this is likely to happen. Bush must not have very much faith in his new plan as he has already said that things are most likely going to get bloodier over the summer. Expect more of this as time and death tolls go on, a constant spinning from the White House just like we’ve seen throughout the duration of this war. And you can expect some Republicans to follow suit. But I think the key thing here is that people are going to be watching, they are going to be looking for results, and they are just going to see more and more death, and the Iraqi government take a two month vacation.

Despite Gopper attempts to spin the war George’s way, I don’t see a new resurgence of support for the war under these conditions, and Republicans will no longer be able to ignore their constituents.

It is under these conditions that we will finally see the proper climate to affect a pull out of the Iraqi war. Though this has already been undoubtedly mapped out by much of the Democratic leadership, it will be the Republicans in congress who vote against the war that will most likely get all the credit, asserting themselves as brave mavericks who have finally stood up to the head of their party, meanwhile Democratic leadership will still be seen as weak for letting the war carry on through the summer when they apparently should have stopped it earlier.

Ultimately, yeah, they could have solidified themselves as heroes by foolishly trying to cram the end of the war down Bush’s throat while the entire time the math was stacked up against them, but I find it far more effective that they are willing to forgo the heroics in favor of actually building a strategy that actually has a shot at working.

Much like their bringing about an increase in minimum wage. Sure, they could have energized the base and been seen as heroes by trying and failing to pass it on its own, but instead, they slip it into a highly unpopular war appropriations bill because they know it will pass. This isn’t trying to glean any and all good press they can from

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