The Pelosi Plan for Iraq

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

THE RESTRICTIONS on Iraq war funding drawn up by the House Democratic leadership are exquisitely tailored to bring together the party's leftist and centrist wings. For the Out of Iraq Caucus, which demands that Congress force a withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of this year, there is language that appears to deliver that mandate, albeit indirectly. For those who prefer a more moderate course, there is another withdrawal deadline, in August 2008. Either way, almost all American troops would be out of Iraq by the time the next election campaign begins in earnest. And there are plenty of enticements on the side: more money for wounded veterans, for children's health, for post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.

The only constituency House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored in her plan for amending President Bush's supplemental war funding bill are the people of the country that U.S. troops are fighting to stabilize. The Democratic proposal doesn't attempt to answer the question of why August 2008 is the right moment for the Iraqi government to lose all support from U.S. combat units. It doesn't hint at what might happen if American forces were to leave at the end of this year -- a development that would be triggered by the Iraqi government's weakness. It doesn't explain how continued U.S. interests in Iraq, which holds the world's second-largest oil reserves and a substantial cadre of al-Qaeda militants, would be protected after 2008; in fact, it may prohibit U.S. forces from returning once they leave.

In short, the Democratic proposal to be taken up this week is an attempt to impose detailed management on a war without regard for the war itself. Will Iraq collapse into unrestrained civil conflict with "massive civilian casualties," as the U.S. intelligence community predicts in the event of a rapid withdrawal? Will al-Qaeda establish a powerful new base for launching attacks on the United States and its allies? Will there be a regional war that sucks in Iraqi neighbors such as Saudi Arabia or Turkey? The House legislation is indifferent: Whether or not any of those events happened, U.S. forces would be gone.

The House bill lists benchmarks for Iraqi political progress and requires that President Bush certify by July 1 that progress is being made toward them. By October, Bush would have to certify that the benchmarks all had been reached. This is something of a trick, akin to the inflexible troop readiness requirements that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) wanted to impose to "stop the surge." Everyone knows that the long list of requirements -- including constitutional changes, local elections and the completion of complex legislation -- couldn't be finished in six months. In that case a troop withdrawal would have to begin immediately. If there was no "progress" by July, it would have to begin then and be completed by the end of the year.

Congress should rigorously monitor the Iraqi government's progress on those benchmarks. By Mr. Bush's own account the purpose of the troop surge in Iraq is to enable political progress. If progress does not occur, the military strategy should be reconsidered. But aggressive oversight is quite different from mandating military steps according to an inflexible timetable conforming to the need to capture votes in Congress or at the 2008 polls. Ms. Pelosi's strategy leads not toward a responsible withdrawal from Iraq but to a constitutional power struggle with Mr. Bush, who has already said he will veto the legislation. Such a struggle would serve the interests of neither the Democrats nor the country.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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