Never before have I felt such irk from a Cheney smirk -- the one with which he confidently assured CBS's Bob Schieffer on Sunday's "Face the Nation" that the Democrats will continue to vote to fund the war without including serious restrictions.
Cheney referred approvingly to the fact that "Carl Levin, who's chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has indicated that they definitely do want to pass funding for the troops."
Cheney expressed confidence that the Democrats will "not leave America's fighting forces in harm's way without the resources they need to defend themselves." And yes, the vice president went on to reassure viewers, against all evidence to the contrary: "We are making progress."
The administration's main objective could hardly be clearer, even to mainstream pundits allergic to spelling it out. By waving the flag of patriotism, the White House is confident it can continue to intimidate enough Democrats to get the only thing it really wants: enough money to stave off defeat in Iraq until President George W. Bush and Cheney are safely out of office. That, of course, also explains the foredoomed "surge" in troop strength.
But how is it that Cheney can enlist the likes of Carl Levin in a policy built on the backs of American troops? Based on recent casualty rates, some 1,500 American troops already "in harm's way" will die, and several times that number will be wounded before Cheney and Bush leave office -- not to mention the ever mounting casualties among Iraqis.
Is Cheney exaggerating the support he sees in Levin? Apparently not. The senior senator from Michigan seems ready to provide additional funding for the war, no matter what. On April 8, right after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would cosponsor legislation cutting off all funding for combat troops after March 31, 2008, Levin undercut him by telling ABC's "This Week": "We're not going to vote to cut the funding, period. ... We're not going to cut off funding for the troops. We shouldn't cut off funding for the troops. ... We're going to vote for a bill that funds the troops, period. We're going to fund the troops. We always have."
What would prompt Levin to undermine his own majority leader? Levin was challenged on that point last Sunday at the University of Michigan. He replied that cutting funding for the war is what Rush Limbaugh wants and would play into Bush's hands. The Democrats would probably lose a battle over funding and end up looking "really bad," added Levin.
Not very persuasive, senator -- not when more and more are getting killed in Iraq every day.
Levin may be concerned about things other than looking bad. Those taking part in last month's meeting of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington heard stern warnings from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that America not show "weakness" on Iraq -- warnings that a U.S. troop withdrawal would make the neighborhood far more dangerous for Israel.
Federal Election Commission records show that Levin has received more money from pro-Israel political action committees than any other senator. But, given his distinguished record, it would seem appropriate to give him the benefit of the doubt. It seems less likely that he is influenced by the money than by his penchant to see little or no daylight between what he perceives to be Israel's interests and those of the United States.
This appears to be the kind of "passionate attachment" against which George Washington warned so strongly in his farewell address more than 200 years ago.
RAY McGOVERN was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is now on the steering group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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