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May 03, 2007

Democrats Cave On Timetable; Republicans Warm To Vaguer "Benchmarks"

A compromise is in the works, generally mostly involving the Democrats giving up anything but symbolic antiwar language. However, some Republicans, we're told, are agitating for restrictions on Bush and a message to him to wrap this war up, won or lost, especially when the microphones aren't on.

President Bush and congressional leaders began negotiating a second war funding bill yesterday, with Democrats offering the first major concession: an agreement to drop their demand for a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq.

Democrats backed off after the House failed, on a vote of 222 to 203, to override the president's veto of a $124 billion measure that would have required U.S. forces to begin withdrawing as early as July. But party leaders made it clear that the next bill will have to include language that influences war policy. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) outlined a second measure that would step up Iraqi accountability, "transition" the U.S. military role and show "a reasonable way to end this war."

"We made our position clear. He made his position clear. Now it is time for us to try to work together," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said after a White House meeting. "But make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war."

...

But a new dynamic also is at work, with some Republicans now saying that funding further military operations in Iraq with no strings attached does not make practical or political sense. Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.), a conservative who opposed the first funding bill, said, "The hallway talk is very different from the podium talk."

While deadlines for troop withdrawals had to be dropped from the spending bill, such language is likely to appear in a defense policy measure that is expected to reach the House floor in two weeks, just when a second war funding bill could be ready for a House vote. Democrats want the next spending measure to pass before Congress recesses on May 25 for Memorial Day weekend.

Beyond that, Democrats remain deeply divided over how far to give in to the White House.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) indicated that the next bill will include benchmarks for Iraq -- such as passing a law to share oil revenue, quelling religious violence and disarming sectarian militias -- to keep its government on course. Failure to meet benchmarks could cost Baghdad billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid, and the administration would be required to report to Congress every 30 days on the military and political situation in Iraq.

...

"The general sense is that the benchmarks are critical," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), a moderate who opposed the original bill but supports some constraints.

White House officials are also looking to benchmarks as an area of compromise, but they want them to be tied to rewards for achievement, not penalties for failure.

Although, to be honest, I do understand the impulse of Congressmen to send "messages" to Bush given the generally unsatisfactory nature of the war he's directed, all of these messages are also received by Al Qaeda. And Iran. And al-Sadr. And the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government, for example, continues to coddle Shiite militias, removing government officials who go after the militias too aggressively.

But they know -- because the Democrats keep telling them so -- that America will soon be departing Iraq, and thus will need other armed allies if the central government is to survive. Where else are they going to go but Iran and Iran's repulsive toady al-Sadr?

These "messages" are increasing violence in Iraq, killing troops, and encouraging our enemies.

Perhaps the anti-war coalition and its softer allies can just announce precisely how many US soldiers and Iraqi civilians need to kill in order to produce the votes necessary to defund the war. That way everyone has the same "timetable" they can refer to. Everyone will be on the same page -- we'd all know that all Al Qaeda has to do is kill x civilians and y US soldiers to win the war. We can all count it down together like a grim magic number.


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posted by Ace at 12:49 PM

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