Former Iraq Commander Backs Pull-Out; Dems' "Withdrawal" Bill Full of Loopholes


According to Agence France Presse, former Iraq commander Ricardo Sanchez, who has become vocal in his opposition to the White House's handling of the war and subsequent occupation, is backing the Democrats' interim defense bill, which ties additional funding for Iraq to a partial troop draw-down:

A former top US commander in Iraq has thrown his support behind a war funding bill proposed by Democrats that calls for withdrawing most combat troops by the end of next year.
Retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez says in remarks to be aired Saturday in the Democrats' weekly radio address that Iraqi leaders are not making the tough decisions needed to bring peace to their country.
"The keys to securing the future of Iraq are aggressive regional diplomacy, political reconciliation and economic hope," Sanchez, who led US forces in Iraq between 2003-2004, says in excerpts of his remarks.
"Yet, as our current commanders in Iraq have recently noted, the improvements in security produced by the courage and blood of our troops have not been matched by a willingness on the part of Iraqi leaders to make the hard choices necessary to bring peace to their country," he says.
"There is no evidence that the Iraqis will choose to do so in the near future or that we have an ability to force that result."
According to an analysis by the AP's Anne Flaherty, the Democratic bill wouldn't come close to ending the occupation:
The Democrats' flagship proposal on Iraq is aimed at bringing most troops home. Yet if enacted, the law would still allow for tens of thousands of U.S. troops to stay deployed for years to come.
This reality -- readily acknowledged by Democrats who say it's still their best shot at curbing the nearly five-year war -- has drawn the ire of anti-war groups and bolstered President Bush's prediction that the United States will most likely wind up maintaining a hefty long-term presence in Iraq, much like in South Korea.
For those who want troops out, "you've got more holes in here than Swiss cheese," said Tom Andrews, national director of the war protest group Win Without War and a former congressman from Maine.
The Democratic proposal would order troops to begin leaving Iraq within 30 days, a requirement Bush is already on track to meet as he begins reversing this year's 30,000 troop buildup. The proposal also sets a goal of ending combat by Dec. 15, 2008.
After that, troops remaining in Iraq would be restricted to three missions: counterterrorism, training Iraqi security forces and protecting U.S. assets, including diplomats.
This month, Senate Republicans blocked the measure, even though it was tied to $50 billion needed by the military, because they said it would impose an artificial timetable on a war that has been showing signs of progress.
Despite the GOP's fierce opposition and a White House veto threat, military officials and analysts say the proposal leaves open the door for a substantial force to remain behind. Estimates range from as few as a couple thousand troops to as many as 70,000 or more to accomplish those three missions.
There are about 164,000 troops in Iraq now.
David Stout of the New York Times reported on the fight that the measure's provoked in Washington:
House Democrats and the White House continued their public relations battle over money for the Iraq war today, as two leading lawmakers accused the administration of trying to scare people for political gain.
"We've already provided all the money the administration will need to get them through to March and to avoid the horror stories that they're peddling," said Representative David R. Obey of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. And money for beyond March will be available if only President Bush will accept "modest and reasonable conditions," Mr. Obey said.
Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, head of the defense appropriations subcommittee and a harsh critic of the war, said, "There's a difference between supporting our military and their families and supporting the war in Iraq."
"This administration supports this war," Mr. Murtha said. "This Congress supports our troops and their families, as we proved over and over and over again."
Last week, the House Democrats managed to pass a $50 billion war spending bill with strings attached, knowing that it would ultimately fail. It sought to set a timeline for redeploying American troops and to narrow the mission of the American forces to concentrate on counterterrorism and training Iraqi security forces.
Senate Republicans blocked the measure after President Bush threatened to veto it, a fact that Mr. Obey and Mr. Murtha underlined today as they held a news conference in the quiet Capitol. That the lawmakers scheduled a news session while the great majority of their colleagues were home for Thanksgiving indicated the seriousness of the battle for public perceptions.
"If the president wants that $50 billion released, all he has to do is to call the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and ask him to stop blocking it," Mr. Obey said, reciting the Kentucky senator's office telephone number for effect. "I repeat, the money is available, and then some," Mr. Obey said.
But what Mr. Obey called "modest and reasonable conditions" are unacceptable to the White House, as President Bush's chief spokeswoman, Dana Perino, reiterated today.
In the Wall Street Journal, David Rogers reported that the Pentagon is playing hard-ball with anti-war legislators by promising layoffs of civilian employees and threatening to shut down social services for military families:
The impasse over Iraq war funding is quickly becoming a high-stakes confrontation between the Pentagon and House Democrats over what impact will be felt by the military and their families.

Without new money for the war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is threatening to send pre-Christmas furlough notices to thousands of base employees and close child-care and family-counseling programs early next year.
Democrats, who just added $237 million to President Bush's request for many of the military's family-support programs, accuse the administration of trying to scare the spouses and children of troops in the field.
"It's infuriating to me. It's purely political," said Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. "In the name of funding the war, they are hurting readiness and the families of the war fighters."
The back-and-forth shows how the advent of a professional, all-volunteer Army has altered American politics since Vietnam. While there is no longer a draft to spread the burden of war, the professional military adds new family issues to the mix compared with Vietnam, when most draftees were single without children.
Amid a broader appropriations battle between the White House and Congress over domestic spending, the new Democratic majority has taken great pains to avoid seeming to shut the government down, as Republicans did in the 1990s. But many Democrats want to end the war in Iraq, and that has led the leadership to take risks it wouldn't take otherwise. In pushing for a confrontation with President Bush over the war, Democrats risk a deep split and the almost inevitable outcome that funding will be approved.
Also see:

"Strategic Drift" -- the Center for American Progress's team asks: "Where's the pushback against the surge?"

"Broken Contract" -- Lawrence Korb looks at the limits of the all-volunteer army.

"Bush Says We'll Be in Iraq for 50 Years, But Reporters Don't Bother to Ask Iraqis to Comment" -- Back in June, Raed Jarrar and Joshua Holland asked Iraqi leaders what they thought of the kind of extended U.S. troop presence president Bush has predicted for Iraq.

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Sign Just Foreign Policy's petition calling on Congress to end the war, or help them spread the word about the under-reported Iraqi death-toll.

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