Columns » John Brummett

Vic Snyder's room to talk

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In his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Vic Snyder of Little Rock cast one of two votes against a nonbinding resolution calling for the prosecution of Saddam Hussein.

He called the exercise hollow and explained that foreign policy should be left to the executive branch.

In 2002, Snyder made one of 133 votes in the 435-member House against the resolution authorizing George W. Bush to make this unholy mess in Iraq. A Marine veteran of Vietnam, Snyder recalled that everyone once was galvanized for action in Southeast Asia, too.

Once the war in Iraq began, Snyder voted consistently to pay for it. He thus provided the credible inverse of John Kerry. He was sufficiently independent and prescient to oppose waging the war, but sufficiently responsible to support it when it became duly authorized and ordered.

He did so even as he insisted that the Republican Congress was shamefully abdicating its responsibility by dissolving the Pentagon oversight subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Give the troops the support they need. Challenge the generals to justify in public what they’re doing. That’s the way it should be done.

Now the Democrats are in charge and Snyder has a seat on that reconstituted oversight subcommittee. Iraq has turned out to be an even deeper quagmire than Vietnam. And Bush has declared and commenced an escalation that Democrats must figure out how to oppose credibly, since the escalation is at once too rash and too tepid.

All of that is to say that, owing to his record, Snyder has room to talk. We can see that he understands three relevant factors: political hollowness, congressional limitation and congressional responsibility. And I had him on the phone.

Snyder said Democrats must proceed cautiously and studiously because troops cannot be undercut financially or morally. But he said Bush’s latest ploy represents “warmed-over tactics, no new strategy,” and that even many Republicans in Congress acknowledge it to be horribly wrong.

Congress thus bears the delicate obligation, he said, to pay for whatever the commander in chief demands of the troops while opposing him where feasible, including the vital arena of public opinion.

Snyder said we should expect in a week or two, maybe longer, for both chambers, the Senate and House, to offer carefully worded resolutions opposing this so-called “surge” as a military ploy, but pledging all due support to troops under orders to execute it.

He said such resolutions wouldn’t be hollow at all. He argued that they would reflect the relevant and vital will of Congress, which would reflect the relevant and vital will of the people.

That, he said, would put appropriate pressure on the president to do something new, different and smarter.

In that regard, Snyder said it may then turn out that Congress could make war policy directives by attaching riders to supplemental war appropriations.

Maybe these riders could bar Bush from taking any military action against Iran. Maybe they could direct him to begin talks with Iran and Syria. Maybe they could direct new diplomatic and political initiatives with and among Iraqi sects.

Dick Cheney sees this coming. Already he is saying you can’t run a war by committee.

There would be constitutional considerations. Congress is not the commander in chief and these riders might be said to presume to command war execution.

There would be political complication. The Democratic Congress would be taking more direct responsibility for a war now wholly Bush’s folly.

But these are extraordinary times calling for extraordinary measures. And Snyder seems to be worth a listen.

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