Sunday, September 16, 2007

Iraq legislation in the pipeline

As is currently being reported, Senate Democrats are trying to build support behind a proposal by Sen. Jim Webb that would require troops get as much downtime at home as they spend in Iraq (active-duty Army units today are on 15-month deployments with a promise of no more than 12 months rest. Marines who spend seven or more months at war sometimes get six months or less at home). Previously offered as an amendment to the defense authorization bill the Senate considered (along with other Iraq-related amendments) in the summer, it got 56 votes but 60 votes were necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster. It is believed they are near having 60 senators behind it, but it is not likely they have the 67 that would be required to override a certain presidential veto:

Gates was asked in broadcast interviews about recommending a veto to Bush should the proposal pass. "Yes I would," the Pentagon chief said.

"If it were enacted, we would have force management problems that would be extremely difficult and, in fact, affect combat effectiveness and perhaps pose greater risk to our troops," he said...

If Webb's amendment were enacted, Gates said it would force him to consider again extending tours in Iraq. He explained that the military commanders would be constrained in the use of available forces, creating gaps and forcing greater use of an already strained National Guard and Reserve.

"It would be extremely difficult for us to manage that. It really is a backdoor way to try and force the president to accelerate the drawdown," Gates said. "Again, the drawdowns have to be based on the conditions on the ground."

"We would have to be looking at gapping units where there would — a unit pulling out would not be immediately replaced by another," he added. "So you'd have an area of combat operations where no U.S. forces would be present for a period, and the troops coming in would then face a much more difficult situation."

Regardless of whether we can believe President Bush's defense secretary or not (and Gates seems like a fairly straight-forward guy, at least for this administration), it is clear Bush would veto the bill and, thus, it would not become law. So is this really the legislation Democrats should focus on? No doubt they believe it popular, which is why some Republicans will vote for it as well, but I'd argue that might give those Republicans political cover on their war support as much as it would help Democrats say they did something. Anyway, there are other avenues:
A separate proposal by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., seeks to restrict the mission of troops to fighting terrorist and training the Iraqi security force.

"The president has dangled a carrot in front of the American people talking about troop reductions," Levin said. "But, again, it is an illusion of a change of course and the American people are not buying it. My colleagues are not buying it."

"I think we have a good chance of getting to the 60 votes to call for a change in policy. I hope we get there in the next couple of weeks," he said.

As I wrote previously, it seems clear to me Democrats are not going to be able to pass a firm timetable to bring our troops home nor will they opt to cut war funding. But it is possible that they could get enough Republican support to limit the war to more narrowly-defined missions (and hopefully force more significant troop reductions than those called for by President Bush which will simply bring us to the pre-escalation level at best). I'm sure not sure how long it would take to get that support, but pushing and pressuring for it seems like a better use of Senate Dems' time than this honorable-but-doomed call for increased troop rest.

1 comment:

Xanthippas said...

I think I agree with you.