Monday, March 12, 2007

The Iraq War Supplemental: A Message or a Mood?

The Iraq War Supplemental: A Message or a Mood?

“I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold.”
2LT Clifton Cates, July 19, 1918, 2nd Battle of the Marne

Few outside the military – in fact few outside the Marine Corps – would recognize this quotation or that the author of the message later became the 19th Commandant.

Yet at this point in time, it seems to capture the state of play on Capitol Hill and the White House as Congress finally concentrates its attention on the president’s 2007 Emergency War Supplemental Appropriations request for approximately $100 billion.

On March 8, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats made public their response to the Bush proposal, the “U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health and Iraq Accountability Act. According to the Speaker’s web site, the proposed law “supports the troops,” puts additional funds into veterans health care (including funds to reinvigorate the veterans’ disability process), holds the administration and Baghdad accountable for meeting agreed benchmarks, and requires the president to withdraw all U.S. soldiers and relocate them in the U.S. no later than. August 31, 2008.

This sounded, at the time, like a “plan that was coming together.” Indeed, the Democrats interpreted (and most observers agreed), that the November 2006 election was a rejection of the administration’s failed “hold the course” strategy (as amended). But the Democrats quickly discovered that, despite the November elections, the White House continued to insist that the war in Iraq “could be won” with no more than an “amendment” to the pre-November ballot.

Faced with a White House that seems intent on standing fast, what can congressional advocates – Republican and Democratic – do to end this war?

In the House, progress depends on whether Speaker Pelosi can command enough votes to move the legislation forward. Her difficulty is that not every Democrat plans to accept the proposed legislation – which is still being worked. Thus no one outside a small group surrounding Pelosi has seen the drafts and the exact wording, as this shifts, to entice as many Democrats as possible to vote for the measure as it is finally presented and amended (if at
all). Its fate in the Senate is even more problematical as the Republicans seem bent on supporting whatever the president requests and rejecting any conditions on troop deployments, military strategy, or the funding categories that will receive funds.

What must not be overlooked is a stark reality: the majority of voters may have cast their ballots to alter the political balance in Congress, but they did not vote in sufficient numbers to turn over substantial enough control to the Democrats to guarantee a rapid and clear reversal of the “hold the course” strategy disaster.

In terms of an unambiguous statement of moral principle within the context of political policy, a true change in course from the current administration strategy would require legislation that would terminate ends all funding for war fighting and brings the troops home as rapidly as possible. The reciprocal use of funds would include reconstruction aid and actions that promote negotiation and dialogue between the various militant groups within Iraq and among Iraq and its neighbors.

In the context of moral principles and political policy that can be converted into pragmatic programs, Congress can deflect (but will not reverse) the current war strategy onto a course that will lead to disengagement from direct combat to a phased withdrawal to be completed by a date certain. Moreover, the provision that would allow a continuing presence of U.S. combat troops through the end of 2008 as long as the president certifies that the Iraqi government meets certain benchmarks could be strengthened by requiring that the Commander of the U.S. Central Command (Admiral Fallon) or the coalition commander in Iraq (General Petraeus) appear before the appropriate congressional committees and give their professional military (not political policy line) judgment on whether the Iraqis have reached the benchmarks

Achieving even this much in the first real challenge to the administration’s failed war policy would mark the beginning of the end of this go-it-alone, win-at-any-cost mentality that predominated in the first six years of this administration.

As one media report put it, not only is the war in Iraq about winning hearts and minds one-at-a-time, so too is the struggle to win control over and end the funding that perpetuates the war.

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