Words of war

FORTUNATELY FOR Congress, actions speak louder than words -- even symbolic actions such as the House of Representatives’ approval Friday of a nonbinding resolution opposing the “surge” of U.S. troops to Iraq.

The surge is necessary, but the resolution may be as well -- as a way to hold President Bush to his commitment that U.S. involvement in Iraq is not open-ended. Still, the world will little note, nor long remember, the words that were uttered by House members before the 246-182 vote. Congress is often a cave of winds, but with a few exceptions the House’s Iraq debate was a blowhard’s paradise.

This debate had it all: pointless recriminations about the original decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein; strained analogies to Pearl Harbor, the Alamo and an unfriendly neighbor who won’t mow his own lawn; invocations of Osama bin Laden (as the real enemy in Iraq or, alternatively, as the real enemy from whom Iraq has distracted us); and, on both sides, simplistic depictions of what’s going on in Iraq as either a civil war with no international implications (a scenario attractive to supporters of the resolution) or the epicenter of the worldwide “war on terror” (an article of faith for some opponents).

Non sequiturs and contradictions abounded. Some opponents of the resolution ridiculed it as meaningless and “fake”; others warned that it was all too substantial, the first step in a Democratic master plan to defund the war directly or by erecting new “readiness” requirements that would make the surge impractical. (Such proposals are in the air but aren’t affected by this resolution.) Meanwhile, some supporters of the resolution talked as if it would not only stop the surge (which it won’t) but end current U.S. involvement in Iraq.


Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the debate was the near-universal emphasis on “supporting the troops,” a mantra so malleable that it was cited by both supporters and opponents of the resolution. For Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), supporting the troops meant moving them “out of harm’s way.” But Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) asked Democrats: “How can we say you support the troops when you don’t support sending the people necessary to back them up to do the job that we sent them there to do to start with?”

Perhaps it was too much to expect eloquence or even originality in this week’s debate. But what the members said was less important than what they did, which was to give vent to the American people’s impatience with a war that has cost more than 3,000 American lives and will soon begin its fifth year.