Lefty embed to Dems: Troops want to fight on; Update: House passes Iraq spending bill, sans timetable; Update: Senate passes bill

It’s Spencer Ackerman, formerly a war supporter and contributor to TNR, now a war opponent and embed in Iraq for The American Prospect. Sectarian killings are on the rise again, the public has further soured on the mission, and according to Ackerman, “nothing in Iraq worth fighting for remains achievable, and nothing achievable in Iraq remains worth fighting for.” (Not even preventing ethnic cleansing?) So he agrees with the Dems that it’s time to stop the war. He just wants them to stop pretending that they’re doing what they’re doing to help the troops, because as it turns out, most of the troops don’t want that kind of “help.”

Haunted by Vietnam, Democrats are determined to express support for the troops. This is admirable. The truth of the matter, however, is this: many troops in Iraq, perhaps even most of them, want to stay and fight. That doesn’t mean that we should stay in Iraq any longer. It does mean, however, that if Democrats want to bridge the divide between themselves and the military—an effort further complicated by their opposition to the war—they’re going to have to recognize that arguing in the name of the troops isn’t going to work…

[F]or many troops in Baghdad, the surge had brought a significant boost in morale. When I rode along with the 57th on patrol, they were experiencing the strange comfort of “boring” days without any enemy attacks—so much so that one gunner even admitted to mixed feelings about the lack of combat. After a period of prolonged catastrophe, the sense that events had shifted in favor of the U.S. came as a great relief. “Having momentum on your side, that’s so important,” explained the company commander, Captain Robert McNellis. “And that’s what we feel right now.” For this company, the surge wasn’t merely an augmentation of troops. It was an augmentation of hope…

Democrats would do much better to speak honestly: to acknowledge that many fighting men and women want to stay in the battle and would be willing to do so for years longer. There’s nothing wrong with saying that, nor in emphasizing that this is part of what makes us so proud of our military. We wouldn’t want soldiers who were unwilling to fight to the bitter end. Elected officials, however, have to judge what they believe to be in the national interest, and that means calling an end to the occupation of Iraq. Soldiers like Wellman won’t agree, but if Democrats can at least signal that they acknowledge and respect his point of view, they’ll have a better chance at getting Wellman to respect their own. And meeting partway is a lot better than not meeting at all.

There’s more at the link, including an argument about why the troops’ assessment should be given due regard but only as one piece of the puzzle and only then after we’ve discounted for the “never say die” can-do attitude that would skew the view of any honorable professional soldier. The shining irony, of course, is that until now the left has invested veterans with absolute moral authority when it comes to opining on the war (but only if they’re against it): that’s the root of the chickenhawk slur, that’s what forces the media to take vets-by-proxy like Cindy Sheehan seriously, that’s why Murtha emerged as a leading anti-war spokesman — he served in the Corps, and was thus possessed of a battle-hardened second sight to which the Chimperor wasn’t privy — and that’s why the Kossacks were so bubbly about the crop of Iraq war vets who ran for Congress last year as Democrats. I take Ackerman’s piece to be a tacit warning to all of them that the chickens have come home to roost and it might be time once again to see the virtues in civilian supervision of the military.

Peter Pace said today that the Pentagon’s already looking into transitioning the mission from combat to advisory, so the whole thing may be moot before too long. Do read this open letter to the media by an Iowa Guardsman, too; it’s a good illustration of the type of opinion Ackerman seems to have been getting over there.

Exit question: Is Ackerman’s chief worry the distaste the troops might have for the Democrats’ pandering or the distaste the public might have for it?

Update: Nancy and company bit the bullet tonight, passing the new Iraq spending bill after having split it in two so that the Democrats could vote en masse for the domestic spending provisions and then the Republicans and Blue Dogs could pass the actual troop funding. The thinking:

“It will be demonstrated tomorrow, when they support the supplemental overwhelmingly, [that] it continues to be their war,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.). “I don’t think anyone is awkward about having a vote like that.”

Nutroots groups are irate. The next spending battle may come in July or in September at the very latest, after Petraeus gives his progress report.

Update: The Senate passed it, 80-14, but CNN’s article pointedly doesn’t say how the presidential candidates voted. Stay tuned for the roll.

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