NewsHour political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks discuss the congressional debate over President Bush's strategy in Iraq and the latest in the 2008 race for the White House.
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And, Mark, there was a great deal of difference of opinion on the House floor over whether this nonbinding resolution was important, not important. But they passed it; it was hardly a squeaker.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:
It wasn't a squeaker, Ray. And it was interesting. You're right. I was up there, and I know David was, too, listening to the debate.
And the Republicans' criticism of the Democrats' position seemed to be alternately, "This is an empty gesture. It's a hollow, meaningless, nothing but words," or, "This is the end of Western civilization as we know it."
In fact, Adam Putnam, the chairman of the Republican House Conference, combined both positions in his own argument, that it was meaningless and empty rhetoric, and a threat to the Western world.
So it's an important first step. We're about to go in the fifth year…
But first step toward what?
Well, it's the fifth year. The fifth year of the war is about to begin. And this is the first time this Congress has dealt with it, debated it, voted on anything.
And I think that the next step is going to be in the form of the dealings, just as Chuck Hagel told Judy, dealing with the appropriations process. And it's going to be a real fight. There's no doubt about it.
Well, David, we also heard Chuck Hagel say that this was a big deal, for all the attempts to minimize it over the last several days. What do you think?
DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:
I'd say a medium deal, I think a precursor to a big deal. I mean, I think you can't beat something with nothing. And so far, the war opponents have nothing. It's no surprise that the war is unpopular, and that was registered in the vote. But you've got to have some alternative policy.
And some people do. Jack Murtha has a policy of withdrawal. Other people do. Joe Biden has a policy. But you've got to have resolutions that propose an alternative.
And until there is an alternative, I don't think you're going to see much fracturing in the Republicans. And you really won't see much weakening in the White House resolve to continue with the surge.
So we're going to get to a debate where Jack Murtha is going to say they're going to pose restrictions and conditions on the money that's being spent or on the way the troops are rotated in or out.
And at that point, you not only have a big debate because you've got two alternative policies; you have a huge constitutional crisis, because you will have people in the White House saying to people in the Congress, "You guys are micromanaging troop levels in a war. You can't do that." And that really will be a big moment.