Friday, March 09, 2007

Dems set pullout date for Iraq

The House wants them all gone by August 2008; the Senate merely sets a "target date" of March 2008.

Here's a comparison of the proposals.

The House version would accelerate the pullout if the Iraqi government fails to meet certain benchmarks. It also retains John Murtha's "training standards" requirement for troops deployed to Iraq, but allows the president to waive it.

The House version will be attached to Bush's request for $100 billion in new funding authority for Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate version is a standalone measure.

This is notable for three things: First, it shows the Democrats have the backbone to confront Bush on this directly. Second, it apparently has majority (though, obviously, not unanimous) support in the Democratic caucuses. Opposition comes mostly from liberal Democrats, who don't think the proposal goes far enough or moves fast enough. Third, the deadline is clearly calculated to get Iraq off the table before the 2008 presidential elections. It'll still be an issue, of course, but not in the way it would be if there were still active combat operations going on.

You'll be shocked to know that House Minority Leader John Boehner doesn't think so. He said it amounts to "failure at any cost" and that the generals on the ground, not Congress, should be making troop decisions.

Boehner's wrong on both counts. Yes, Congress should not be involved in tactical or even strategic military decisions. But they are properly involved in setting the scope and shape of the war. If Congress has the power to start wars, it has the power to end them. As for this being "failure at any cost", that's Republican framing at its best. We wouldn't be having this discussion if the war in Iraq, however unjustified, were going well.

But are the measures a good idea?

I think they're reasonable. What it essentially does is give Bush and the Iraqi government a year and a half to show results. That's why it's not popular with the most antiwar Democrats; they're tired of giving Bush chances, and want the troops home now.

Further, it doesn't imply that we would totally abandon Iraq by the deadline. It's merely a deadline to shift from U.S. combat operations to supporting Iraqi government combat operations. If Iraq is unable to stand on its own by the end of 2008 -- five years after we invaded -- it's reasonable to conclude that they never will be able to do so.

The various certification requirements are smart politics, pointing out the damage that the war is doing to our military and forcing Bush to go on record about it. But giving Bush the ability to waive them eliminates any criticism that they are materially interfering with his handling of the war.

Finally, the big thing to remember is that any deadline set by Congress can always be changed by Congress. If things suddenly start going well in Iraq, you can bet that Congress will extend or abandon the requirements. Presidential election or no, everyone will want to be able to say they were a midwife for success.

Of course, the White House has bluntly vowed to veto any bill containing either measure, and there's no way Congress will pass this with veto-proof majorities. So this whole discussion is probably moot.

Although it'll be interesting to see what happens after that. If Bush vetos the war-funding bill because of the pullout provision, for example, the House will have to decide whether to reauthorize the funding without that provision, or go in another direction. They could simply cut the funding, for instance, so that it provides only enough money for operations up to the first benchmark deadline. They then could decide whether to grant further funding based on whether that benchmark was reached. If it wasn't, they could authorize funding solely for withdrawal and handover operations.

So this is merely the first shot in a battle that will be fought until either Bush turns Iraq around or Congress pulls the plug.

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