Oh, it’s sweet. Syrupy sweet. Murtha’s fat mouth + anti-nutroots backlash = crazy, crazy delicious.

House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party’s own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“If you strictly limit a commander’s ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk,” said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha…

[The slow bleed] approach may be all but dead, according to several Democratic lawmakers. Murtha doomed his own plan in part by unveiling it on a left-wing Web site, inflaming party moderates. [This site? — ed.]

“Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds,” said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a leading Democratic moderate, who called Murtha’s whole effort “clumsy.”

Cooper’s position underscores the challenges now facing the House Democratic leadership. While the caucus’s liberal wing is demanding legislation to end the war almost immediately, moderates such as Cooper say Congress should focus on oversight of the war and stay away from legislation that encroaches on the war powers of the president.

“I think Congress begins to skate on thin ice when we start to micromanage troop deployments and rotations,” said Texas’s Edwards, whose views reflect those of several other Democrats from conservative districts.

I’m mainlining schadenfreude from the hint that they might have gone along with it if not for Spanky pandering to the same cretins who routinely threaten to drive centrist Democrats from office. But let’s not OD: Carl Levin’s alternative is a new AUMF, co-authored with Joe Biden, demanding full withdrawal by March 31 of next year and limiting combat operations to Al Qaeda in Iraq. How they propose to have U.S. troops distinguish AQ fighters from indigenous Sunni jihadis is unclear; why they’d refuse to let U.S. troops target the Mahdi Army is uncertain, particularly given our own intel assessments that the Shiite extremists are a bigger threat to stability than the Sunnis. Do the Democrats really not grasp that having the U.S. military flatten the Sunnis and then leave would be tantamount to handing the country to Muqtada al-Sadr? Or do they simply not care because, after all, it’s “their war, not ours”?

I’ve said before that I think Congress could constitutionally revoke the 2002 AUMF. That wouldn’t infringe on the prerogatives of the executive because it wouldn’t tell him how to command troops in the field; it would simply withdraw the authorization granted to him to command troops in the field in the first place. Levin and Biden don’t want to revoke it, though; they want to dictate operations, which is why I think this one’s a loser on separation of powers grounds if it ever comes before a court:

The new resolution would restrict U. S. military efforts in Iraq to training and logistical support for the Iraqi army, counter-terrorism operations and securing the Iraqi borders, especially with Iran and Syria, said the Democratic insiders, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity as the drafting proceeds.

The GOP says it’ll never get the 60 votes needed to pass, so Levin and Biden are thinking of adding it as an amendment to a bill that will — like the bill to enact the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, or the next spending bill. Then Bush will have to veto that bill and they’ll get to do what Democrats do best: stamp their feet and feign indignation when the president vetoes the bill, even though everyone will know that he wouldn’t have vetoed it if not for the AUMF provision, which could and should be split off into a (doomed) bill of its own. Their problem, very simply, is that they don’t have 60 votes in the Senate to beat a GOP filibuster of any sort, and until they do they’re wasting their time trying to figure out new and ever cleverer ways of sneaking some anti-war measures through. But hey, if the situation in Baghdad deterioriates, a few more Republican senators might jump ship and they could reach the magic number. There’s something for the nutroots to cross its fingers for.

Is it worth noting that Our Moral Leader thinks the surge is a good idea? For now, that is; when it starts to go bad, he’ll claim he was “misled.” Meanwhile, Cheney’s finally gotten back to Pelosi after she stamped her feet and feigned indignation when he accused her of validating AQ’s strategy:

Vice President Dick Cheney refused Friday to take back his charge that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to President Bush’s Iraq war buildup is playing into the hands of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

“If you’re going to advocate a course of action that basically is withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, then you don’t get to just do the fun part of that, that says, ‘We’ll, we’re going to get out,’ and appeal to your constituents on that basis,” Cheney said…

“You also have to be accountable for the results. What are the consequences of that? What happens if we withdraw from Iraq?,” he said. “And the point I made and I’ll make it again is that al-Qaida functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That’s their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we’ll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaida. I said it and I meant it.”

Asked if he was willing to take back his criticism of Pelosi, Cheney replied, “I’m not backing down.”

Is he wrong? It’s worth revisiting Zawahiri’s (alleged) letter to Zarqawi in 2005. Quote:

If our intended goal in this age is the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet and if we expect to establish its state predominantly–according to how it appears to us–in the heart of the Islamic world, then your efforts and sacrifices–God permitting–are a large step directly towards that goal.

So we must think for a long time about our next steps and how we want to attain it, and it is my humble opinion that the Jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals:

The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.

That’s the very first step. That’s what Murtha, and Levin and Biden, are trying to make happen.

Exit question: If, per fringe leftist dogma, the Iraq war is a war for Israel, how do we explain this?

Update: Hold the phone — Powell didn’t say he supports the surge. Go figure.