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Profiles in Courage?

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," Congress's vote of no confidence. What message does the Democrats' war resolution send to our troops? And what about our enemies? Plus, from stalwart hawk to get-out-fast, we'll examine Hillary Clinton's turn to the left on Iraq. And a dubious deal with North Korea. After decades of broken promises, is Kim Jong-il really ready to give up his nuclear ambitions? Those topics, plus our weekly "Hits and Misses." But first, these headlines.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Friday's vote will signal whether the House has heard the American people. No more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq.

House Minority Leader John Boehner: Will we retreat and leave the fight for another generation? These are the questions with historic implications that will be answered this week.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

Congress spent the week debating a Democratic resolution on Iraq that purported to support the troops while opposing the president's call for additional forces. Though the resolution was nonbinding, the message it sent was clear.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, deputy editor Melanie Kirkpatrick, editorial board member Rob Pollock and columnist Bret Stephens.

Dan, you spent the week listening to the debate. If Iraqis and GIs in Baghdad were also listening, what would they conclude?

Henninger: Well, you know, Paul, I have exchanged emails in conversation with some of the officers in Iraq. And I've asked them that question: What do you think about what goes on in Washington? And most of them say, You know, I'm out here in Anbar Province trying to do my job and Washington strikes me as kind of an abstraction.

And I think if they would look at what went on in the House--they're voting on a nonbinding resolution, right? Yet one Democrat after another came forth and said We support our troops and we support their families. And I think the troops in Iraq would probably say, You know, Congressman, I don't really need your sympathy. What I need to know is, when I am out there on the front line, are you going to be standing here beside me or are you going to be behind me pulling on my backpack? They want more clarity.

Gigot: What about the Iraqis? Are the Iraqis going to make any judgments about where America stands from this debate, Rob?

Pollock: Of course. They pay very close attention. Iraq has a vibrant free press, hundred of newspapers, lots of television channels. They know exactly what is going on.

Stephens: Well, in fact, I interviewed an Iraqi liberal politician by the name of Mithal al-Alusi a couple of weeks ago in Washington, and I asked him about the debate. And on the one hand he said, well, it's nice to see the democratic process--how the democratic process works. On the other hand, he said, this kind of debate is precisely what emboldens al-Qaeda and what emboldens Iran to believe that their goals are within reach. Zawahiri said it clearly. The sooner that--goal No. 1, get Americans out of Iraq. And they watched this debate. And I think they're very encouraged by it.

Gigot: What about the strategy, though, of saying we support troops, but on the other hand we won't give you the resources to be able to perform and carry you out your mission? That's a mixed message isn't it, Melanie?

Kirkpatrick: I think it's a mixed message. And I think voters--I think it runs the risk for Democrats of turning this war into the Democrats' war, into Murtha's war. If Democrats are not prepared to support the troops, and the war gets worse, then the voters are going to blame Democrats.

Gigot: I'll tell you one of the pressures Nancy Pelosi has internally--it's the people who are really antiwar and left-wing within her own party. Let's listen to John Conyers as he spoke this week.

Conyers: The ultimate unequivocal authority of the Congress is the power of the purse. And so we must use it.

Gigot: Why don't they use it, Rob? If they really oppose the mission, why don't they just cut off the troops?

Pollock: Well, they're not going to just cut off funds. Look, that's taking responsibility in a way they don't want to. But what they are going to do, and they're saying very openly they're going to do after this nonbinding vote, is they're going to start attaching all kinds of conditions to the war appropriations.

John Murtha is talking about two in particular, which could be very damaging. He's talking about limiting National Guard deployments, and he's talking about putting, quote, unquote, "readiness requirements" on the troops--i.e., if they are not outfitted with the latest armor kit, they can't go over. Well, if that's taken seriously, it going to make it almost impossible for the president to prosecute the war. And he's going to have to get serious about asserting his constitutional authority to disregard those kinds of conditions.

Gigot: The president is?

Pollock: Yes, absolutely.

Henninger: The Democrats are trying to draw to an inside straight here. There is a strong antiwar faction within that party, and they want to pull the plug. Now it is going to be difficult for the Democrats to, on the one hand mollify the anti-war segment, and yet somehow convince the American people and the troops that they support them, but not the war. It is a contradiction on its face.

Kirkpatrick: You're absolutely right. It's too clever by half, and it's hard to see how it's going to work in Iraq or with the American voters.

Stephens: I think Conyers deserves some praise here. He is taking the courageous decision. He says if this war is a bad idea, and Congress has the power of the purse, we should end it. That is Congress's constitutional prerogative and it is a responsibility, and it takes political guts for the Democrats to do that. And I'd sooner have the Conyerses of Congress stand up and have their ideas debated than the Murthas and the Pelosis.

Gigot: At least Conyers has courage of his convictions, which is more than you can say for most of the members here, who want it both ways.

All right, Bret, thanks.

Much more on the House debate when we come back. Also ahead, Hillary's left turn, from stalwart hawk to get-out-fast. We'll examine the Democratic presidential hopeful's public record on the war in Iraq.

Gigot: As Sen. Hillary Clinton vies for the Democratic presidential nomination, she is taking a marked turn to the left, pressured by other candidates and by her party's left wing. When it comes to Iraq, the once stalwart hawk is now embracing a get-out-fast strategy.

Let's take a look at the arc of the senator's positions on Iraq, starting with her speech on the Senate floor in 2002, endorsing the Iraq war resolution:

Mrs. Clinton: So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war. It is a vote at that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president. And we say to him, use these powers wisely and as a last resort. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein, this is your last chance, disarm or be disarmed.

Gigot: Then we have a statement by the senator in 2004, when the war was growing more unpopular. But she said this: "I don't regret giving the president the authority because at the time it was in the context of weapons of mass destruction, grave threats to the United States, and clearly Saddam Hussein had been a real problem for the international community for more than a decade," unquote.

Now more recently in 2007 to the Democratic National Committee.

Mrs. Clinton: Nearly four years ago, our president rushed us into war in Iraq. . . . If I had been president in October of 2002, I would have never asked for authority to divert our attention from Afghanistan to Iraq. And I certainly would never have started this war.

Gigot: All right, Rob. What's changed to influence the senator's changing views?

Pollock: What's changed is the politics have changed. And I highly recommend people go back--go to Hillary's Senate Web site and read that entire 2002 speech. It is very interesting. Because she talks about--she puts the threat of Saddam in context. She talks about how her husband dealt with him. And all of a sudden, now she's saying suddenly President Bush is obsessed with--strangely obsessed with Saddam. That's a very hard shift to explain. She talks about how he was a threat for a decade--for more than a decade--and all of a sudden Bush is irrationally obsessed?

Gigot: But the campaign now, in responding to this, is saying, Look, that wasn't a blank check for President Bush. All that vote was, was conditional. It was to influence Saddam Hussein, to give the president more leverage. What do you think of that argument?

Stephens: Well, she supported the war--I mean, as the 2004 quote suggests, she supported the war for a long time, including after it became clear that weapons of mass destruction were probably not going to be found in Iraq. So that's disingenuous. But the real question you have to ask is: Which Hillary is real? And I think both answers are depressing.

I actually would give her the benefits of the doubt and think that the first Hillary, who supported the war, who had gone through the Saddam years when her husband was president, understood the menace he posed. But the problem here is she's facing a Democratic Party and a Democratic nomination where the left is so dominant and so--

Gigot: The antiwar left?

Stephens: The anti-war left is so dominant that she's having to change her tune in a way that I think is embarrassing.

Henninger: But let's keep in mind, Hillary is a Clinton, and the essence of Clintonian politics is hedging. And every time they make a statement, there is an out-clause, which they can later say, I didn't really mean that. That was the essence of Bill Clinton's presidency. And that, I think, is one of the reasons people have a problem with Hillary.

Gigot: So assuming that she needs to do this--that is, move left on the war to win the Democratic presidential nomination--it's going to hurt her in the general election potentially, if she gets it?

Kirkpatrick: Yeah, absolutely. It's just another example, as Dan is suggesting, of her lacking the courage of her convictions. She moved to the right on abortion to the extent that no one less than Kate Michelman is supporting John Edwards instead of the female candidate.

Gigot: Former head of the National Abortion Rights League.

Kirkpatrick: Yes. And she's also moved right on health care. And so the question has to rise among the voters' minds: What does she stand for?

Gigot: All right, thanks, Melanie.

Coming up, after decades of broken promises, North Korea's Kim Jong-il has finally decided to give up his nuclear ambitions. Or has he? Our panel debates when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

President Bush: So the assessment made by some, that this is not a good deal, is just flat wrong. Now, those who say the North Koreans have got to prove themselves by actually following through on the deal, are right. And I'm one. This is a good first step.

Gigot: That was President Bush defending this week's announcement of an agreement with North Korea over its nuclear program. The deal hammered out at six-party talks in Beijing requires Kim Jong-il's communist regime to shutter its main reactor in 60 days in exchange for diplomatic recognition and $400 million in aid. Melanie, the president got testy there defending the deal against critics. Is it a good deal?

Kirkpatrick: It is a terrible deal, and if--

Gigot: How do you really feel?

Kirkpatrick: Yeah. And if we stick to what we said we're going to do, it's going to fall apart within a couple of months.

You have to ask yourself, what do you want with any deal with North Korea? And I think the answer is the complete, irreversible elimination of its nuclear program. And this deal doesn't come close to beginning to do that. It makes no mention of its nuclear weapons. It doesn't talk about eliminating its weapons program. And it doesn't talk about the reprocessed fuel.

Gigot: It doesn't have to turn over the plutonium we know it has and the bombs, one of which it's already tested.

Henninger: Well, this is a key point. This program is different than Iran. North Korea has what some people estimate to be six to 10 nuclear weapons already. I think it's in their interest to dismantle their program. They are a member of the nuclear club. They've got the authority now to stand up to anybody and say, We've got the bomb. There's nothing in this agreement that forces them to get rid of their bombs.

Gigot: Right.

Pollock: Well, look, on the plus side of this, if, like me, you don't think there is any good option with North Korea, the virtue of this might be that it sort of takes it off the diplomatic table, while President Bush wants to concentrate his diplomatic energies on the Iranian threat. And of course Iran does not yet have a bomb. North Korea does and--

Stephens: Well, but you have to ask yourself here, why did the North Koreans take this deal? The North Koreans are very tough bargainers, and yet they went for the deal amazingly quickly. And what they get, at least straight up, is not a lot: 50,000 tons of fuel, promise of further discussions.

What it suggests to me is that the North Koreans must have been feeling a tremendous squeeze in order to go for this, and the squeeze they were feeling was primarily financial. When we went after their hard-cash assets in places like Macau, it meant that Kim Jong-il didn't have the money to distribute the goodies to the elite that keeps him and his family in power. I think it's suggestive that the measures that we were taking were actually coming close to working. So the alternative is, keep doing what you were doing. Don't negotiate.

Gigot: What about the timeline here, Melanie? They've got to produce everything within 60 days. They've got to put a declaration on the table of everything they have. Now what happens if Kim Jong-il says--lays out really only half of what we think he has?

Kirkpatrick: Well, that's the big question. Kim Jong-il in the past hasn't been truthful. In the 1990s he said he was eliminating his nuclear program, and then he had a secret uranium program going on at the same time. And the North Korean news agency said about--characterized the deal as a temporary suspension of it nuclear program. That doesn't sound to me like we're anywhere near an agreement.

Gigot: One other argument in favor of the deal, though, Bret, is that China is involved. Unlike 1994, in the deal the Clinton administration struck, where China was not a party, China is a party to this deal. They were a party to the six-party talks. And the argument the administration makes is they're invested in this now, they have leverage over North Korea, more leverage than we do. And therefore, they are going to make sure that Kim follows through. What do you think of that?

Stephens: Well, that is good news. That's absolutely right. It does make a difference to have the Chinese involved. The problem is you have to ask yourself which China. There are competing interests within Chinese power structures. There is a view, I think, by the part of their Foreign Affairs Ministry that they should exert pressure on the North Koreans; the North Koreans should live up to their agreements. But apparently members of their military don't feel the same way. And you see it in the same way that the sanctions resolution the U.N. passed last year has played out. It hasn't been fully enforced.

Gigot: One other conclusion you can reach here is that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, is by far the dominant force on national-security issues in this administration. She and the president did this deal, I think, essentially by themselves.

All right. We have to take one more breaks. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week.

Item one, Bank of America comes under fire for offering credit cards and mortgages to illegal immigrants. Dan?

Henninger: Well, yeah. Up to now, illegal immigrants, when they've needed money, have generally loan sharks, which of course keeps them in the illegal economy. But now the Bank of America has announced that it's going to announce a pilot program in which they give illegal immigrants credit cards if they've had a checking account for three months with the bank and no overdrafts. The idea is they create a credit history that allows them to increase their purchasing power. Wells Fargo Bank has been extending mortgages to some illegal immigrants if they have an independent tax number, which means they've paid some taxes and have stable employment.

So the idea here is to draw them into the legal system. And it seems to me that the market is essentially going to have these illegal immigrants living out in the suburbs in houses full of flat-panel televisions before the political system ever gets close to solving this problem.

Gigot: All right, Dan, thanks.

Next, China gets set to usher in the Year of the Pig. Melanie?

Kirkpatrick: This is the Year of the Pig coming up. And fortunetellers say it is an auspicious year for having babies. Babies born in this year are supposed to be prosperous and live carefree lives. And I was just in Asia, where there is some concern about the coming baby boom. In China, for example, they're worried about hospitals being overrun. And then five years from now, they're worried about school not having enough places for them. And in Hong Kong, they're worried about mainland couples, who now are a lot richer than they used to be, running to Hong Kong to have their babies in order to escape the one-child policy.

It is a different story in South Korea, however, which has one of the world's lowest birthrates. Tax incentives to persuade couples to have babies haven't worked. So now they're hoping superstition will help them. The government now wishes that every year were the Year of the Pig.

Gigot: All right, Melanie.

And next, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Congress for a raise. Rob?

Pollock: Yeah, the Supreme Court justice says that federal judges, who make between $160,000 and $210,000 roughly, don't make enough money to attract the best and brightest people. Look, maybe he has a fair point, given what law firms pay even young lawyers. But I wonder how much the justice has thought about the fact that the reluctance of Congress to give raises might have something to do with public perception of judges and the role they have been playing in society of late--approving wild tort judgments, inventing rights, and reading rights out of the Constitution--particularly, in Mr. Kennedy's case, the right not to have to your private property taken by the government.

Gigot: All right, Rob. Thanks.

Finally, with his career as a radio talk show host in shambles, comedian Al Franken sets his sights on something new. Bret?

Stephens: This is actually the first funny thing that Al Franken has ever said or done. The author of the book on Rush Limbaugh and then the star of a very financially as well as popularity-challenged show is now going to run for Senate in Minnesota. And here he's going to be following in the steps of other great Minnesotans, like Jesse Ventura, who have also provided a kind of comic aside to American politics. All the same, I wish him well.

Gigot: All right, Bret, thanks. We're going to be looking at that race.

That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to Dan Henninger, Melanie Kirkpatrick, Rob Pollock and Bret Stephens. I'm Paul Gigot. Thanks to all of you for watching, and we hope to see you right here next weak.

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