On the surface, recent votes in Congress appear to signal a new Democratic determination to withdraw from Iraq. But the reality is otherwise. It is not only that the resolutions were drafted and adopted with the certain knowledge that they would be vetoed. More important, even if a future Democratic president did try to implement the new plans, the results would likely end up looking oddly similar to the Bush administration’s current strategy. In politics as in war, things are seldom what they seem.
If there’s one thing that Iraqis and Americans agree on, it’s that U.S. troops don’t belong in Iraq—and yet even now, the troops are still there. Elected officials of all persuasions are supposed to respond to public opinion. So what explains this gap? One possibility is that politicians realize that raw public sentiment cannot be translated into practical policy without taking account of the likely consequences. It is not enough to give the public what it wants today if tomorrow—or whenever the next elections are held—the public will be even angrier about where things have gone in the meantime. With office comes responsibility—if only because politicians want to keep their jobs.