Senate votes to retreat from Iraq
By a vote of 51 to 46, the U.S. Senate has joined the House of Representatives in officially endorsing a unilateral retreat from Iraq. The appropriations bill "would require troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1 and no later than Oct. 1." Of course, everyone knows that President Bush will veto the funding measure, setting the stage for a showdown in which U.S. servicemen and women will become political pawns. Nevertheless, the Democratic leaders felt that they had to make their point. Our own Senator John Warner, who became increasingly critical of Bush's war policy last October. voted against the Democratic bill because it was "too heavy-handed." Interestingly, however, he cited the Iraqi parliament's decision to take a two-month recess this summer as a reason to hope for a "more cooperative spirit on Capitol Hill." He reasons that such a recess would signify a lack of resolve on the part of Iraqis, which would undermine support for Bush's war policy in Congress. Hence the calls for "benchmarks" to measure how much progress is being made in the war, which would trigger the release of U.S. funds if the proper conditions are met. See the Washington Post. In my mind, such benchmarks a waste of time for a long-term conflict such as this one. They also show a paternalistic attitude by the U.S. government: "We tell you folks what to do."
Of course, any legislative provisions that attempt to force specific changes in military deployments would be an unwarranted intrusion into Executive Branch prerogatives. If the Congress really wants to exert pressure on President Bush to withdraw from Iraq, they should simply deduct the anticipated cost of the next fiscal years' combat operations from the appropriations bill, and add the cost of transporting the troops back to their home bases in the United States or Germany, and let the President worry about what to do. So why don't they pursue such a straightforward course of action? Because they know that the public would quickly realize that it really would indeed signify an admission of defeat, and not many people are willing to go that far with their anti-war sentiments.
I vaguely recall some people arguing that the Democrats' opposition to funding the war is putting greater pressure on the Iraqis to come together and take responsibility for their own security, as an example of "two-stage game theory" in action. I don't think that political dynamic is applicable in this situation any more, however.
Reid retreats from defeatism
I try to minimize partisanship when it comes to war, but I can't help but note that it says a lot that the Democrats can't even execute a retreat properly. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid committed a huge gaffe last week, saying that the war in Iraq is "already lost" -- but then he backtracked, just to be on the safe side. Profiles in Courage? Not! Military blogger Austin Bay ridiculed Reid for his contemptible, mealy-mouthed words. And WaPo columnist David Broder called Reid "The Democrats' Alberto Gonzales," for being "a continuing embarrassment [to his party] thanks to his amateurish performance." Ouch! Broder is not a conservative by any means, so his assessment carries special weight in this case. Of course, if Reid and other top Democratic leaders were speaking out of sincere conviction, rather than pure political expediency, they wouldn't have to equivocate on such a vital, clear-cut issue.