Friday, 16 February 2007

Follow the Iraq resolution with benchmarks for bush


After three days of overdue and occasionally overheated debate, the House is poised today to pass a non-binding resolution against President Bush's troop surge in Iraq.
Opponents widely dismiss the resolution as toothless political posturing, and there's some truth to that. The measure requires no change in policy and offers no alternative. In a sense, it offers members a free shot at an unpopular president and a controversial war.
At the same time, it sends a powerful message, which is why those same opponents have fought so furiously to stop it. For the first time since Congress voted in late 2002 to give the president permission to go to war, a majority of one chamber will go on record against Bush's management of the conflict.
Put simply, it is a vote of no confidence in Bush's plan, and one in which a dozen or more Republicans are expected to join. It is a formal way for members of Congress to say what their constituents said in the last election and in every subsequent poll: They will not tolerate the failing war much longer.
The Senate may follow with its own non-binding resolution, but what matters more is what comes next. How exactly can Congress put Bush on the tighter leash that his mismanagement of the war merits without undercutting troops in the field?
One thing that will not happen is a quick end to the war, which Congress could force by refusing to approve the nearly $100 billion Bush is seeking to finance it. For all their angst, the Democrats have no stomach for this. They would then share blame for defeat, and politics aside, most lawmakers recognize that an abrupt retreat would invite a host of problems, including all-out civil war, and a foothold for al-Qaeda terrorists.
Instead, House Democrats appear poised to take the sort of approach unions do when they want to ratchet up pressure without going on strike. On Thursday, Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa., a leading war opponent and chairman of the panel that controls defense spending, outlined a sort of work-to-rule restriction for the Pentagon. The Army is stretched so thin that commanders have resorted to cutting home stays short, extending combat tours in Iraq and ordering troops to stay past their agreed-on exit dates. Murtha would prohibit that and more, reasoning that without those tactics the Pentagon won't be able to continue to surge.
Because Congress controls funding and can attach restrictions, it is within its power to micro-manage the military. It's a crude tool, however, and generally a bad way to interfere with the commander-in-chief's role. The military, once assigned a mission, should have the means to achieve it.
There is a better option, one hinted at by Bush himself at his press conference Wednesday. He said that the most important measure of success is for Iraqis "to see tangible results" on the ground. That's just as true for U.S. troops and Americans back home.
Just as Bush is setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government, Congress should set its own strict benchmarks for the president. By the administration's own projections, and those of the Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander in Iraq, the "surge" should show results by late summer, about six months from now. Success would be defined as a noticeable drop in the violence in Baghdad, Iraqi troops stepping up to do the bulk of the fighting and the Iraqi government taking real steps toward political reconciliation.
If by reasonable measures the surge is failing - and make no mistake, it is going to continue for now - then Congress should vote for a change of course and adoption of the phased redeployment described by the Iraq Study Group. And this time, make it binding.


Post a Comment