WAITING FOR SEPTEMBER….Spencer Ackerman surveys the lay of the land following the Senate’s all-night debate on Iraq and concludes with this:

5. Stop this equivocating! Who won?

The GOP won — today, at least. Sen. Mitch McConnell prevented the crucial ten Republican defections. Much of the media is portraying the Democrats as either obstructionists — which must rankle them, since they weren’t the ones filibustering the defense bill — or as losers. And since the Dems didn’t break the filibuster, that last part is true enough.

I think this is about right. Unfortunately, Reid’s gambit was simply too labyrinthine for most people to understand. I pay a ton of attention to these things, and even I was (and still am) confused about exactly what happened. For the ordinary schmoe it was hopeless. Was the GOP filibustering? Really? Then why were both sides giving speeches? Was Reid trying to force some kind of action? Then why were he and McConnell pleasantly agreeing at midnight about exactly what they were going to do eleven hours later? And what was that 11 o’clock vote all about, anyway?

Obviously there are answers to all these questions, but nobody but the junkiest of the political junky set cares enough to figure them out. Political theater rises and falls based on whether it makes a clear, simple point, and the all-nighter didn’t.

On the other hand, although Reid’s decision to pull the defense authorization bill from the floor isn’t something designed for public attention, it’s likely to have a bigger impact down the road because it prevents Republicans from voting on compromise amendments related to withdrawal. Spencer again:

Without the option of supporting such amendments, Republicans can’t plausibly claim to constituents to have done anything to stop the war. In turn, that increases the pressure on them to support the only available option left — i.e., a binding measure mandating withdrawal, such as the one favored by Dems.

….By forcing the discussion now, Dems forced Republicans into the fall-back position of saying, “The war should begin to end not now, but in September.” That means it will be tougher for Republicans to continue to back the war come September — Petraeus report or no.

Two weeks ago, it was hardly clear that September would be the beginning of the end, as opposed to a potential rallying point for Republicans when Petraeus comes to Washington. But thanks to how the July debate unfolded, come September the GOP’s victory today could look like a Pyrrhic one.

This sounds plausible. And the defense authorization bill is clearly the place to stage a genuine fight, since it can’t be filibustered and President Bush will have a hard time successfully blaming Democrats if he vetoes it. The public wants out of Iraq, and if Dems force a veto fight, the public will probably side with them. So we wait.

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