History and hope

John Boehner (R-Ohio) understood the significance of Nancy Pelosi’s inauguration. “In a few moments, I’ll have the high privilege of handing the gavel of the House of Representatives to a woman for the first time in history,” the minority leader told his fellow lawmakers. “Whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, this is a cause for celebration.”

Indeed it was. For her part, Pelosi brought a woman’s warm touch to the proceedings, giving Boehner a hug and a kiss when he handed over the gavel, inviting the many children in the room to join her at the rostrum, and shaking hands with well-wishers while cradling her sleeping infant grandson in her left arm.

Whether Pelosi can translate the positive energy of the inauguration into the productive bipartisanship she called for in her inaugural speech remains to be seen, of course. The immediate and nearly unanimous passage of the tightest ethics package in House history was a good sign, but Republicans are already complaining that the speaker’s ambitious “first 100 hours” plan to pass new legislation is designed to squeeze them out.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: Iraq. The problem the new Congress faces is that the only authority it has is over the purse strings. With the president apparently prepared to ignore the election results and call soon for an escalation in the war, Congress will have to make a difficult decision about whether to revisit its original 2002 war authorization.

That authorization, it should be remembered, was limited in scope. It specified two objectives: to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and to “enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.” Both objectives were related directly to Saddam Hussein and his suspected weapons of mass destruction.

As we know, there were no WMDs, and Saddam Hussein is history. Iraq is no longer a threat to American national security or in violation of U.N. resolutions. The counterinsurgency in Iraq is not what Congress authorized in 2002.

Congress has every right to reexamine this war’s purpose and decide anew whether it’s worth supporting. In her speech, Pelosi called for a new direction in Iraq “that allows us to responsibly redeploy American forces.” Many Republicans joined Democrats in applauding her remark—a hopeful sign that a bipartisan consensus to end the war is achievable.