Democrats Need To Admit They Have A Problem: They Are Addicted to Backing Down

"Mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support."

That is how, according to the Washington Post, officials present characterized the reaction of lawmakers, including Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Jane Harman, when they were briefed in 2002 about waterboarding and other severe interrogation techniques being employed by the CIA.

But it could just as well be the slogan of the Democrats for much of the last six-plus years -- especially on Iraq.

It's no wonder Democrats have already decided to capitulate on the war funding bill coming before Congress next week. As recently as three weeks ago, Speaker Pelosi said there would be no more votes on Iraq funding this year (she said the same thing -- both about no votes this year and no votes in '08 without a withdrawal date -- when I interviewed her in October), and last month Sen. Chuck Schumer thundered, "The days of a free lunch are over."

Well, over in the same way that U.S. state-sanctioned torture is over. Which is to say, not so much.

Why can't the Democrats do anything about it? According to Jim Manley, spokesman for Harry Reid: "Republicans, Republicans, Republicans. The real problem here is the president and his Republican backers" who have "staked out an increasingly hard-lined position."

Republicans taking a hard-line position? Who could've have thunk it? The question for Reid and Pelosi is this: why would the Republicans not be taking increasingly hard-line positions when Democratic opposition to the war -- and the other excesses of the Bush administration -- has been so consistently tepid?

That's why the Washington Post piece about senior Democrats being briefed about waterboarding and other torture practices is both shocking and not shocking.

It's shocking that any American lawmaker -- of either party -- would go along with state-sanctioned torture. But it's not shocking when you realize it's just part of a long line of Democratic "acquiescence." From the outright support of the war authorization (sorry, Hillary, we all know what the bill was about) to the latest surrender on war funding, Republicans know Democrats will bluster...and then cave. So of course they're taking "increasingly hard-lined positions."

According to the Post, when briefed in 2002 about the torture going on, "no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said."

But, of course, it's all the fault of "Republicans, Republicans, Republicans."

As Andrew Sullivan notes, "At best, it seems to me, Democratic resistance to these war crimes was anodyne." (For more on what the destroyed interrogation tapes likely would have shown, read this post by Kevin Drum).

Senator Jay Rockefeller, who can't really decide what he knew about the torture and the tapes and their destruction or when he knew it, now says he was "really disturbed by what I was reading and what we grew to know."

And could there be anything more confused and anodyne than the way Democrats ceded the PR war over the surge to the GOP? Would it have been so hard to point out that the ultimate purpose of the surge was not military but creating the conditions for political stability and reconciliation? Can they not be trusted to remember that far back, all the way to January 2007?

And why are the major Democratic presidential candidates standing on the sidelines when it comes to ending the war and zero tolerance for torture? If they don't show bold leadership now, what is to prevent the Republican nominee - -whoever that is -- from walking all over the Democratic nominee -- whoever that is -- the same way the Bush administration is walking all over congressional Democrats now?

If you want to know what that is going to look like watch the tape of Rudy Giuliani on Meet the Press and you'll get a preview. Here he is on whether the NIE finding that Iran has largely abandoned its nuclear program eliminated the option of a pre-emptive military strike:

"No, I, I don't think it does... The option of this government should be that we don't take any options off the table, and we keep the pressure on them. And of course we don't, we don't want to use the military option. It would be dangerous; it would be risky. But I think it would be more dangerous and more risky if Iran did become a nuclear power."

"It must be great to work in the communications staff for a Republican presidential campaign -- you don't have to bother to change the talking points based on new information, you just repeat the old lines as if nothing ever changes."

And that's the point. The Republican aren't going to change. If the disastrous foreign policy the U.S. has pursued for seven years is going to change, it's going to have to be because Democrats force it to change.

And they're not going to do that until they break completely with their past "acquiescence, if not outright support" of that foreign policy. It's like AA -- they first need to admit they have a severe problem, do a serious and fearless political inventory, and then commit to making a change.

Memo to Oprah: while you're on the campaign trail, maybe you can facilitate an intervention. How about you and Dr. Phil show up at the next debate and haul the Democratic frontrunners and the Congressional leadership off to spinal rehab?