Tuesday, March 27, 2007

One step forward is two steps back...

...but it might lead to three steps forward. Maybe.

In a minor surprise, the Senate rejected an attempt to strip its Iraq war supplemental spending bill of any reference to a troop withdrawal deadline.

The bill contained a provision calling for withdrawing combat troops from Iraq beginning 120 days after enactment with a goal of completing it by the end of next March. The largely-party line vote was 50-48 against the move to delete the provision. Since the GOPpers had already promised to avoid any parliamentary maneuvers to delay the measure, final passage with the withdrawal provision intact now seems assured.

The House version also contains a sort of timetable, that being the benchmark-linked withdrawal of combat forces by October 2008. So it also seems to be a certainty that whatever emerges from a House-Senate conference and goes to Bush will have some expression of limitations.

The New York Times called the Senate action a "forceful rebuke" to Bush, a sentiment some Senators echoed.
“When it comes to the war in Iraq, the American people have spoken, the House and Senate have spoken,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Now, we hope the president is listening.”
But as the line goes, if wishes were horses, beggers would ride. Despite the tough talk, the Senate bill suffers from the same basic flaw as the House bill: It calls for a start to withdrawal with a goal of completion a year from now. There are no mandates, no requirements, and no means of enforcement. And both House and Senate versions would allow the continuing presence of an unspecified number of US troops in Iraq for "training" and "counterterrorism operations." Bush says he will veto the bill, but some have cynically suggested that he might just be striking a pose because he could sign any conceiveable bill that could come out of conference and still run the war any damn way he wanted.

Perhaps. But I'm of the mind that he'll veto it because, well because that's the way he is. (How's that for hard-nosed analysis?) He wants anything and everything all his own way and I think that at this point he and the fanatics who surround him still believe it'll work out their way if they just tough it out. After all, it's pretty much worked for the last six years and betting on the Dems to fold when it comes down to direct confrontation, in this case a post-veto demand for a so-called "clean" bill, one with no restrictions, is not a long shot.

So the big question now is, what happens when the veto comes? Bush will talk about not "micromanaging" and not "cutting and running" - Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino has already described the Senate bill as "mandating failure.” There is no chance that a veto would be overridden and in its wake little chance that the slim majorities in both houses for symbolic deadlines can be held together. So does that mean we've just lost?

Nope. There are alternatives that Pelosi, Reid, and the rest of their merry gang could pursue in their respective chambers that would do more to advance the cause of ending the war than anything that's happened there so far. Here are two:

- Propose a "clean" bill, but with an appropriation that covers only three months. Allow votes on amendments calling for reductions in the amount or binding conditions on its release, such as saying no funds will be made available or may be spent after December 31. Or that funds made available or spent after September 30 can only be for the purpose of protecting forces as they withdraw over the ensuing 90 days. It's likely such amendments would fail on the first attempt - but you have insured you will have the chance to try again with a new supplemental request three months of increasing public frustration with the war later.

- Propose a "clean" bill that funds the amount requested - but those monies are dispersed only, perhaps, quarterly, with each new dispensing of funds requiring Congressional approval. Such measures of approval are open to the same sorts of amendments as the previous example.

The point in either case is to make sure this vote is not the last, that Congress leaves itself options to add further restrictions, up to and including a forced withdrawal, as antiwar sentiment increases, as it will.

Or hey, here's a thought: Don't pass a bill! Don't appropriate any money at all, knowing full well that available Pentagon funds are more than sufficient to cover the costs of a safe withdrawal. It is of course extremely unlikely there are more than a handful of people in Congress with the guts to do that; too many are still too intimidated by the phrase "abandoning the troops." But the bottom line is that it is the right thing to do - and I believe more than a handful know it, a more than handful that will grow over time.

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