Special Report

Harry Reid’s Banana Peel

Defunding our troops is a Democratic loser -- but party leaders can't help themselves.

By 4.6.07

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Harry Reid stepped on a banana peel the other day. He doesn't know it yet and it may take some time for its slippery properties to take over, but make no mistake, in due course he will end up on his keister and so will a lot of his colleagues on Capitol Hill. As soon as she returns from Syria, et al., Nancy Pelosi will step on the same banana peel.

It has a name: Defunding the troops in Iraq. Having misread the mood of the public in last November's election as out-of-Iraq-the-sooner-the-better, the Democratic leaders in Congress have set about to appease the noisy and dyspeptic far-left wing of their party (important in primaries, but about 15 percent of the electorate in a general election).

Some Congressional Democrats want to reconcile the recent troop-funding bills in both houses into one that funds without withdrawal schedules. Others want one that includes both Iraqi government performance "benchmarks" and U.S. troop withdrawal deadlines. If the bill that emerges has deadlines and impossible-to-attach benchmarks, it will be vetoed by President Bush. His veto will be sustained. The Democrats will not have the votes to override it because even its ardent supporters know that if it becomes law, their party will have taken on full responsibility for the consequences.

The last time a Democratically-controlled Congress tried to micromanage a war was in Vietnam. Their final pulling of the funding plug on aid to the South Vietnamese government resulted in its quick collapse, tens of thousands of refugees, and a very bad taste in the mouths of Americans. The war was unpopular (in part because we had the draft and many young men wanted no part of it), but Americans do not like to feel badly about themselves or their country.

The Vietnam micromanagement was the Democrats' banana peel then. It took time and the feckless Carter Administration to make for a collective longing to feel better again. Ronald Reagan came along at just the right moment for that. In 1980, Carter and the most liberal members of Congress all slipped on the banana peel.

Even today, despite the passage of years, there is an unspoken lingering suspicion that Democrats are wanting when it comes to supporting American interests abroad. The determined support for what might be called "terrorist rights" by left-leaning groups in this country only adds to the unease.

While the polls show that Americans are weary of the war, what really bothers them is its uncertainty and the apparent lack of positive news. That is where General Petraeus's new strategy comes in (remember that the Democratic Senate unanimously confirmed him for the job). Despite war-weariness, polls also show that most Americans want us to succeed in Iraq. General Petraeus says we'll know by late summer if the new approach is truly working.

Meanwhile, a Bush veto of the funding-with-deadlines legislation will lead to the activation of Harry Reid's latest gambit, a bill to defund the war by March of next year. This is designed to keep the far-left bloggers and shouters mollified. It will have just the opposite effect. They will increase their decibel level. A deepening chasm will develop in the Democratic Congressional caucuses. Harry's banana peel will quickly multiply (like those wire coat hangers in your closet) until virtually every Hill Democrat will be standing on one.

A total defunding bill will require Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to stop their minuet and declare which side they are on. Anger and division will mount. The far-left will insist on nothing less than total defunding by a date-certain. In the course of the debate, the American people will see that the Democrats' we-support-our-trooops talk was lip service and that defunding means undermining those troops -- all of whom are volunteers. They will not want to cut funds during a war being fought bravely by those volunteers who are their sons, daughters, siblings, and grandchildren.

All Bush need do is hold his ground and continue to use the veto. He has nothing to lose by doing so, but the Congressional Democrats and their presidential candidates have everything to lose in 2008 by pursuing the "deadlines" and "defunding" goals. If they slip on the banana peel, they'll be saying more than "Oops."

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”