It's Way Too Late for Nonbinding Resolutions on Iraq
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This week, Senate Democrats agreed to join Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel and up to eight other Republicans (so far) in a somewhat watered-down resolution opposing Bush's troop escalation. As far as the politics go, it's a sound, even smart approach.
But politics is a grand game and Iraq is deadly serious business; it's the reality on the ground that should convince Democrats that this is no time for a nonbinding resolution -- a resolution filled with loopholes, I should add -- that expresses the displeasure of Congress to a president who's made it abundantly clear that he doesn't give a damn what Capitol Hill thinks.
The thinking behind the approach makes sense. Senate Dems are hoping that a bipartisan resolution with broad support will further isolate and weaken Bush. The New York Times noted that the resolution will "represent the most significant reconsideration of congressional support for the war since it began, and mark the first big clash between the White House and Congress since the November election." In a press release, MoveOn's Tom Mattzie called the resolution a victory and "a good first step," stressing that in no way does it "constrain the Congress from using all of its powers to stop the escalation and force President Bush to implement an exit plan." The Daou Report's Steve Benen wrote that while at first blush the resolution "sounds like exactly the kind of move that reinforces the image of Dems being 'weak,'" if the point "is to put the GOP in a bind, and possibly lead to additional congressional action, it may not be as hollow as it appears."
So it may be smart politics, especially as Republicans have threatened to filibuster a more aggressive approach and in light of Bush's veto pen.
But beyond the politics, consider what Bush's escalation really means. This week, a National Intelligence Estimate warned of "an increasingly perilous situation in which the United States has little control and there is a strong possibility of further deterioration."
Also this week, we learned that Gen. George Casey, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, had asked for half the number of troops Bush ultimately requested (Casey originally opposed any increase in troops). At the same time, we learned that there was a bait-and-switch in Bush's planned "surge"; a new report by the Congressional Budget Office found that the administration's request for just over 20,000 combat troops would require a deployment of as many as 28,000 additional personnel, including support and logistics troops and contractors. According to the Washington Post , "that could mean the plan would involve up to 48,000 troops and contractors, at a cost of between $9 billion and $13 billion for the first four months and up to $27 billion for the first year." The report contradicts testimony given Congress just last week by the Army chief of staff.
The Post also reported that the military faces shortfalls of "thousands of vehicles, armor kits and other equipment needed to supply the extra forces." According to senior military officials interviewed by the paper, "The increase would also further degrade the readiness of U.S.-based ground forces, hampering their ability to respond quickly ... [to] other military contingencies around the world and increasing the risk of U.S. casualties."
The military called up 3,000 additional troops from the Individual Ready Reserve last summer -- soldiers who have fulfilled their military obligation and returned to civilian life -- and is transfering a battalion of desperately needed troops out of Afghanistan "just as the Taliban is expected to unleash a major campaign to cut the vital road between Kabul and Kandahar â€¦"
Last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who told her "that he would like to see 50,000 U.S. troops leave by the end of the year," as long as "the equipment and training of the [Iraqi] national forces could be speeded up." But McClatchy News Service reported this week that "The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces" has only strengthened "Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia." According to the report, "al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that [U.S. forces] trained and armed," and a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Baghdad said, "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around."
So when Bush asks America to give his plan to send 21,000 troops to fortify Baghdad and help train Iraqi security forces "a chance," what he's really saying is, 'regardless of what Congress, the American people and the Iraq Study Group want to see happen, I will send 50,000 under-equipped troops into the meat-grinder so that they can more effectively arm and train Shiite militias.' This, while the administration steadfastly refuses to engage in a parallel diplomatic push with Iraq's neighbors -- one that might give the plan some small chance of success -- choosing instead to rattle its saber towards Iran.
Sen. Chris Dodd responded to all this by saying: "This is the United States Senate. This is not some city council somewhere â€¦ It seems to me sending something down that engages the president, that forces the administration to pay attention is something we ought to be considering."
Russ Feingold added, "A political victory is not more important than ending this war," and he's right. With an attack against Iran seeming ever more probable, this is the time to lay down hard constraints, to cut funding for Bush's escalation, demand he seek congressional authorization to spread his conflict beyond Iraq and move towards ending the occupation. Anything less at this point is too little, too late.