The Democrats’ efforts to impose a timetable for Iraq withdrawal were met with the usual Republican rhetoric, meant, it seems, to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the American public—those who will not, can not, or are indifferent to checking the facts regarding the nature of the Democrats’ proposal.

Bill Frist, M.D.,as usual, served as the Republican hit man, and, with the usual John Wayne swagger, characterized the Democrats as chickens, wimps, etc. by saying that they wish to “cut and run.” This strategy is so repeatedly successful that one must consider the truth in it—the Democrats really are wimps. In general, they do not stand together and speak in a unified and strong voice, without mincing words. In general, they do not seize political opportunities and play an offensive game.

What does it mean to “cut and run”? Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines it as follows: “Be off as quickly as possible. A sea phrase, meaning cut your cable and run before the wind.” OK. An old seafaring term meaning to depart as quickly as possible. Boy that phrase has come a long way, hasn’t it? Well, is that what the Democrats really proposed—a hasty departure? The Kerry-Feingold Amendment, excerpted as follows, provides for something a bit more complex than that:

“SCHEDULE FOR REDEPLOYMENT. — For purposes of strengthening the national security of the United States, the President shall redeploy, commencing immediately, United States forces from Iraq by July 1, 2007, in accordance with a schedule coordinated with the Government of Iraq, leaving only the minimal number of forces that are critical to completing the mission of standing up Iraqi security forces, conducting targeted and specialized counterterrorism operations, and protecting United States facilities and personnel.

(2) CONSULTATION WITH CONGRESS REQUIRED. — The President shall consult with Congress regarding the schedule for redeployment and shall submit such schedule to Congress as part of the report required under subsection (c).

(3) MAINTENACE OF OVER-THE-HORIZON TROOP PRESENCE. — The President should maintain an over-the-horizon troop presence to prosecute the war on terror and protect regional security interests.”

Basically, this amendment provides for a full year in which a redeployment schedule can be implemented, in consultation with the Iraqi government and Congress. It also provides for a continued troop presence.

It is unfortunate that this amendment couldn’t be fairly debated rather than dismissed with rhetoric. Troop withdrawal from Iraq is a vexed question because Iraq truly is a quagmire. In all, the Kerry-Feingold amendment is reasonable and makes sense due to the ongoing costs of this war, in terms of dollars and American and Iraqi lives. But before Republican and Democratic legislators, including Kerry, voted to send troops to Iraq, they should have considered the very real possibility that it would further destabilize both the country and the region, as it has. Iraq is in a state of relative chaos right now and truly on the brink of Civil War. Sectarian violence in that country won’t end any time soon. As Colin Powell said, with remarkable wisdom, “You break it, you own it.” Children are taught in kindergarten to clean up their own messes, and George Bush has not yet done that in Iraq.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that the Kerry-Feingold Amendment should have been seriously discussed rather than dismissed with the same, old, tired rhetoric. It seems that, in preparation for the upcoming election, Republicans will still be playing the John Wayne card and Democrats will still be dithering.