In a maneuver likely timed to swing political momentum away from Democrats and those who are now calling for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, House Republicans will hold a quick vote tonight on just that (see San Francisco Chronicle story here).
Democratic Rep. Jack Murtha, a longtime military "hawk" and supporter of the war effort, just this week called for the immediate pullout of troops from Iraq. In a classic bit of political theater, all members of the House will now be forced to publicly declare whether or not they agree.
The Republicans and the White House are attempting to call Murtha's bluff, if it can be called such. While the outcome of the vote won't be in question, the politics surrounding the decision to hold it in the first place will be.
Because the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans – many still loyal to the White House and President Bush, even in the face of nosediving poll numbers across the board – it is almost certain that the vote itself is a formality and will essentially change nothing in terms of the United States' Iraq policy.
This ploy may also be seen as a reaction to a surprise Senate vote this week that passed with bipartisan support. While it was non-binding, it did send the first major signal to the White House that Congress is not willing to blindly tow the line on the longstanding policy that may be boiled down to phrases such as "Stay the Course" and "Not a Day Longer." This bumper-sticker approach may have served Karl Rove and the GOP very well in several successive elections, but in terms of substantive policy it looks to be a decisive loser in 2005. The Senate resolution was in effect a call for a plan to bring about some kind of resolution in Iraq. It was, in a sense, a plea for change to a policy that has altered very little since the invasion of two and a half years ago.
Will tonight's House vote be seen as a decisive step to turn the tide of public opinion back to the post-9/11 days of American flag waving and patriotic bravado, or will it be seen as an overreaction and misstep by a ruling party that seriously has lost its way over the last year?
The question may boil down to this: Are people looking for political machinations, or are they looking for real change?
As goes Iraq may go the election chances for many candidates in the 2006 elections, now less than a year away. Congress is feeling the proximity of next November, which certainly can account for the recent developments in both chambers.
Whether or not this urgency produces better results for the people in Iraq and our soldiers in harm's way remains to be seen.