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Democrats must work with Bush to end war

With passage of a budget bill calling for the United States to begin withdrawing forces from Iraq in five months, the Democratic-controlled Congress has dashed clueless into totally uncharted waters.

While the message here is now dangerously muddled, the one that passionate Democrats sent to the Middle East is not.

Never before have a president and congressional leaders, in a spirit of mutual contempt, been locked in legal conflict on a war when thousands of our soldiers were in combat.

This was not the case with the cessation of the Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon was elected partly on his promise to leave the Vietnam morass.

That Nixon secretly escalated the war in Laos and Cambodia does not alter the fact that he and then Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, D-Montana, were in constant secret talks on how to wind down the conflict. Mansfield put the nation first.

Never did Mansfield, like today's counterpart Harry Reid, D-Nev., blow his cool and hysterically announce that the war "is lost," brutalizing battle-weary American troops and those about to be ordered over there.

President Bush is very likely to veto the war's budget bill because of the Oct. 1 deadline. Then our forces and our enemies may watch while Bush and Congress play a game of political "chicken" on when and how to pull the rug out from under the troops and the fragile Iraqi government.

This tragedy is being acted out apart from real life. Nobody in congressional leadership has ever been a soldier. Ironically, Bush, who furtively served in the Air National Guard, is the only one of the main players who wore a uniform.

Reid, his deputy, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the number three leader, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., avoided military service. The same is true for the Senate GOP leaders and the leaders in the House.

None knows what it is like to serve under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, salute, pull guard duty and absolutely obey when ordered to turn here and squat there.

There is a back bencher who has: the Democrats' leading gasbag on warfare, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania. Murtha, a subcommittee chairman, was an intelligence officer in Vietnam.

Murtha, the driving force behind troop withdrawal deadlines, has no sense of what Congress can do when Bush vetoes the bill. Only a handful of votes in each House put it across. So it is not veto-proof.

In an interview, Murtha speculated that Congress will give the troops five months' worth of money. Then he allowed that with holiday recesses looming, there is little time left for fiddling.

None of the Democratic presidential candidates who debated Thursday seemed to know what to do, really, other than quit Iraq.

There are also constitutional issues involved. While it is clear that Congress has the power to declare a war, its authority to end one is murky.

The 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which authorized the Vietnam War, contained a clause enabling Congress to repeal it by joint resolution. Congress did in 1971. There is no such clause in the Iraq War law.

Congress can cut off funds as Congress did with Vietnam in negotiations with President Gerald Ford. If this Congress really cuts off money, the Democrats could be blamed for anything bad that happened to America and its friends here and overseas.

It is hard to deny that the Democrats risk positioning themselves so they can win at home only if America is humiliated abroad, as Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has warned.

For their own good, Democrats should now stow the partisan politics, shut up, especially Reid, get some grown-up military advice and resolve to work quietly with Bush on ending the war.


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