Costs of Iraq and the outing of a CIA agent beg for congressional questionsAmerica is learning the value of divided government. Having Congress in the hands of the political party that controls the White House can be a detriment in a time of crisis. It does the nation no good for the Republican majority in Congress to turn a blind eye to a brewing scandal in the White House. It does the nation no good to have Congress rubber-stamp a gargantuan appropriation for occupation of a foreign nation.
We are in the midst of a foreign military engagement that is a political football. It is not Congress' job to aid a president who wants to use a war for political gain. It is Congress' job to make independent decisions about paying for foreign wars.
The presidential politics surrounding the war in Iraq became more complicated when a columnist revealed the name of an undercover agent. The columnist and five other reporters were fed the agent's name.
The charge of revealing the identity of an undercover agent is a felony. The White House's role in this crime must be investigated. As former Sen. Howard Baker asked during the Watergate crisis: "What did the president know and when did he know it?"
Congress will not convene an investigative committee to ask those questions, for two reasons. The House and Senate are controlled by the president's political party. Secondly, House and Senate leaders misunderstand their role in the divided government, which our Constitution established. Instead of asking tough questions, congressional leaders are brushing off and politicizing this very serious incident.
The same congressional misconception was apparent recently when a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee met to consider the Bush administration's huge request to continue operations in Iraq and rebuild that country. Cutting off Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens announced that the Iraq package would move through intact. Byrd repeatedly had asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed questions that were deflected.
The Constitution gives Congress the power to cross-examine the president's policy makers. In his partisan zeal, Stevens gave up his congressional birthright, and we are the poorer for it.
Those who say that Iraq is not Vietnam don't want to recognize that the very basis of both wars contained an element of fraud. Both wars also involved a high degree of cultural misunderstanding about the enemy nation. In other words, our soldiers are trying to accomplish something that may well be rigged for failure.
As the body count mounts and the costs rise, there will inevitably be a time when senators will find their voice. And when the history of this period is written, Sen. Stevens will look foolish and naive.