It is clear we the people are caught in a web of domestic intrigue as the tautological relationship between the military and the White House plays out into formulations we are meant to believe are reality-based policies. In hearings this past week General Patraeus informed members of Congress he was following the president’s orders in performing his duties. The president followed up with a speech in which he said he was depending on his generals in the field to decide what the next steps in Iraq should be – – so much for clarity regarding who’s in charge of our national destiny.

In the end all that could be concluded is that everything will remain pretty much the same, in terms of troop strength, tours of duty, and an open-ended commitment to the Maliki government no matter how unrepresentative and ineffective it may be. And just in case it seemed as if the administration had exhausted its financially draining requests for funds to keep our troops in harm’s way and provide a bunch of Iraqis with paying jobs the president indicates yet another huge supplemental request is on its way to Congress.

However, a few things of interest did emerge in the hearings. With respect to the agreement President Bush is attempting to forge with Prime Minister Maliki defining the future role of the United States in Iraq, such a compact it is said must be agreed to by the Iraqi parliament, yet the White House insists no such approval is required by our Congress. Senator Biden said he wanted Ambassador Crocker to pass along to the president that indeed Congress would demand to be consulted before any decisions by the two principals were finalized.

And when Senator Obama asked what exactly victory in Iraq would resemble – – would there be an absolute end to violence, would it mean that not one single member of Al Qaeda remained or would it be kind of a messy, somewhat stable situation – – there was a lot of throat clearing and agreement of sorts that things would still be kinda messy for some time even when the country was more or less in a period of what might be called reconciliation. In other words there is still no realistic projection of where or when or how the occupation will end; General Patraeus prescribed a “pause” in troop reductions followed by what he referred to as an assessment of conditions on the ground, all of which will, predictably, deliver us to the eve of the November elections.

In her remarks Senator Clinton brought up the subject of funding and the fact that, as we descend further into debt, Iraq sits on a huge surplus derived from oil revenues driven by high fuel prices around the world and in the United States. Something is very wrong with this picture as she suggested. No point in dwelling on the sycophantic blustering of Lindsay Graham or the platitudes of John McCain that were expressed in the hearings.

However, just because most Democrats and some Republicans may have had reservations about the Patraeus/Crocker testimony is no guarantee they will develop effective means of calling the president and his team to account or find creative ways to change the course of our Iraqi commitment or the means of its funding.

But in the simplest terms, at the dollars and cents level, it may be possible to force the administration to address the funding issue more realistically than it has in the past. For example, Congress could stipulate that future funding for the war/occupation should be undertaken mostly by Iraq itself, and that there should be no more borrowing by us from China or elsewhere. If this endeavor in the Middle East is of such importance, financial compliance by Iraq and a willingness on our part to, say, establish a war tax might either prove our resolve or call into question the efficacy of an open-ended commitment to a conflict that no-one can ever quite say how we will know when we’re done.

Who knows, perhaps economic pressures here may induce sufficient bi-partisan support to effect a veto-proof majority able to address intelligently exactly how our further involvement in Iraq should be funded and what level of military force we can realistically sustain over time.