Do the Dems Want to Win on Iraq?

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Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatening to keep the Senate in an all-night session over Iraq, it's worth considering what a Democrat win in the current legislative battle over Iraq would mean — and whether they really even want one.

After all, picture this: More and more Republicans peel away from President Bush's strategy in Iraq until the day comes, maybe this September, maybe next year, when Democrats find themselves with a veto-proof majority to force Bush to commit to a timeline for withdrawing the troops in Iraq.

Democrats celebrate, the troops are starting to come home, and then ... what exactly?

Does Congress pass legislation to instruct the President on the details of a withdrawal? Do they dictate terms on how to involve NATO or other allies? Or even on how to negotiate with Iran and Syria over the withdrawal? And what if something happens to U.S. troops during the pullout or Iraq rapidly plunges into a bloody civil war as U.S. troops are leaving? Who is to blame? Bush? Congress?

"Those are not decisions that I'm either going to make, or get involved with," Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Carl Levin told TIME. "Assuming everything worked out perfectly, that's the middle of next year, that's early next year, so that's not something that's we're focusing on."

Yet, ultimately, it is control of the war that Democrats plan on spending all night tonight debating in a rare filibuster over an amendment sponsored by Levin and Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, that specifically dictates a timeline for starting to withdraw U.S. troops no later than 120 days after enactment and ending in April 2008. Democrats are holding the Senate in session throughout the night because Republicans are using a filibuster to prevent a simple majority from bringing the measure to a vote.

"It isn't good enough to say, ‘Well, I supported some other amendment that didn't have a timetable, that didn't bring the troops home,'" Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday, referring to other proposals that have been floated by both Republicans and Democrats that call for a change in course but do not include specific timelines. "If you really want to change the policy, you can't rely on the discretion" of President Bush.

Republicans accuse the Democrats of overstepping the lines between the executive and legislative branches. Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that such a scenario would result in "a mistake for the ages."

"The worst thing we could do in this war of any other war is start micromanaging deployment of forces by Congress," Graham said. "The operational control of the war residing in the Senate or House would be a nightmare. Politicians worry about the next election."

On the same show Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, shot back at Graham, citing Congress's move during the Korean War to stop President Harry Truman from deploying forces that had been trained less than 120 days. Levin cites a different historical precedent: how growing Republican opposition to the Vietnam, not any Congressional action, is what ultimately turned President Richard Nixon. "I believe this has to happen now as more and more Republicans actually believe we have to change course and will walk into the [Oval Office] and say we no longer support your policies," Levin said.

So, while Democrats make a show tonight of unfolding cots to nap and debate through the night, it is important to remember that they are doing this more to convince their Republican colleagues to sway Bush, rather than out of any real desire to inherit the war themselves.