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January 25, 2007
Bravely Fleeing

Rose Macaulay once wrote, "It is a common delusion that you make things better by talking about them." This assumes, of course, that one actually cares to make things better, which is not something to assume about members of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, which yesterday released a non-binding resolution declaring President Bush's proposed troop surge not to be in the national interest. For humor value, the bloviations were hard to beat — witness Chuck Hagel, would-be president and tough guy, declaring that his courageous decision to vote for words that have no direct binding power on outcomes is an example of the "tough business" that tough men like him engage in every day.

Beyond an opportunity for Senators to pose and preen before the cameras, however, the resolution does little more than announce to the world, as well as Iraqi insurgents (one instance where these tough little words may have a very real and deadly effect), that the U.S. military will not up its ante in Iraq.

Perhaps retreat is the best outcome. What American citizens should expect from our Congress, however, especially from tough guys like Chuck Hagel, is that they take definitive action. In the words of John Kerry to his fellow Senators, if we believe President Bush's strategy is misguided, then "we have an obligation to do something." And so the brave little prince lent his support to words that carry no force. What he was against, before he was for it, he is now courageously against again.

It puts me in mind of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, after Robin has run from a fight. His minstrel is following him, gaily singing his praises: "When danger reared its ugly head, Sir Robin turned and bravely fled..."

As an election strategy, it's shrewd — capitalize on the public's dissatisfaction by appearing to do something, without actually taking action that might directly backfire. Should a slew of Iraqis be slaughtered in the wake of U.S. troop withdrawal, the John Kerrys and Chuck Hagels of the world are clean as a whistle — they never forced Bush to withdraw troops, after all. This is why they'll not use the power of the purse to restrict Bush's hand in Iraq either, because they fear being blamed for inadequately equipped soldiers. What's a brave and principled Senator to do?

Why, issue a proclamation, of course, boldly announcing what each has already been shouting from the rooftops to news reporters and Iowa focus groups. Does it change the outcome? Certainly. But it does so in a way that leaves no fingerprints.

I suppose we shouldn't expect any better.

On second thought, I think we should. Our representatives don't have to get it right all of the time, but I don't think it's too much to expect them to do what they believe is right for the people they claim to represent. If the Senate peacocks really do believe that the Bush administration lied to get into the Iraqi war, and has since grossly mishandled it, and is now poised to do even more grievous damage, then the courageous thing to do is stop him. The cowardly thing to do, on the other hand, is squawk and blather, without accountability for an alternative course of action.

One of the managers I admire most in the world has a delightfully offensive saying he likes to use with his employees: "no bitch without a pitch." The point being, of course, that anyone can complain. Constructive action, on the other hand, involves crafting an alternative to the status quo, and being willing to make the case for it, and to stand by its consequences. All of his shop floor workers get that. Perhaps that's why none of them will ever become a U.S. Senator.

Posted by Woodlief on January 25, 2007 at 08:07 AM