He said he’d do it, and now he has.

The military plans to furlough civilian employees and cut all Army and Marine Corps bases to bare-bones operations early next year because of a funding impasse with Congress, according to a memo provided to Politico.

Democratic leaders accused the Bush administration of using scare tactics, and said they will not be strong-armed into giving the White House a blank check on the war…

The plan would leave “bases … all but shut down, only able to provide the most basic safety and security measures for those who reside there,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said at a briefing Tuesday afternoon.

“The most immediate impact will be felt next month, just before Christmas, in fact, when we’ll begin notifying roughly 200,000 civilians and contractors that we can no longer afford their services; and that, absent additional funding, they will be furloughed, or temporarily laid off, within a matter of weeks,” Morrell said.

“It is imperative that lawmakers reconsider this matter as soon as possible and send the president supplemental funding legislation, free from objectionable policy provisions, in order to insure that we can continue to support our troops and their families, as well as protect our nation’s security.”

The objectionable provision to which he’s referring is Reid’s demand for a plan for withdrawal in return for new money for the war. Two votes failed in the Senate last week and so the impasse remains unbridged; in the interim, the White House has been authorized by Congress to keep funding the war if it likes — by pulling money out of the Defense Department’s operational budget, thus generating the shortfalls Gates is trying to address with these cuts. It’s a clever, if typically gutless, strategy by the Dems in that it forces the decision of whether to continue the war onto Bush, with general military readiness the price. The problem for the left is that it looks especially awful to cut funding while progress is finally being made; the problem for the right is that support for the war hasn’t increased appreciably (yet), due partly to the fact that people are paying less attention these days. I wonder if Bush is considering some sort of non-binding timetable in light of the political cover the recent security gains have given him. He can’t retreat under fire, but he’s already committed to withdrawing the surge brigades — security permitting — on grounds that sufficient progress in Anbar has been made to obviate the need for them (never mind the fact that he would have had to withdraw them anyway). A non-binding timetable would simply be an extension of that logic: instead of declaring victory and going home, he’d declare partial victory and announce we’re partially going home — again, security permitting. That’d probably be enough for Reid and Pelosi, neither of whom wants to commit so entirely to defeat at this point that they can’t take partial credit if things continue to improve over the next year. Exit question: Will Bush go for the non-binding timetable? If not, how can he expect the Dems to cave on funding again and lose whatever tiny shred of credibility they still have?

Update: Like I say, the public’s not paying much attention right now but if stories like this keep coming the new reality’s eventually going to penetrate. Not all of the refugees are coming home voluntarily thanks to Syria’s visa regulations, and no one’s giving any official numbers, but note the quotes from the UN rep. It sounds like we’re talking about more than a few thousand people here.

Iraqi refugees are returning home in dramatic numbers, concluding that security in Baghdad has been transformed. Thousands have left their refuge in Syria in recent months, according to some estimates.

The Iraqi Embassy is organising a secure mass convoy from Damascus to Baghdad on Monday for refugees who want to drive back. Embassy notices went up around the Syrian capital yesterday, offering free bus and train rides home…

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was scrambling to assess thetransformation last night. An interim report is expected today. “There is alarge movement of people going back to Iraq. We are doing rapid research on this,” a spokesman said…

“In the last month, 60 per cent of the Iraqis I know have returned,” [Hussein Ali Saleh, the director of the National Theatre in Baghdad,] said.“The situation has been changed completely. They all want to go back. Even my own family back in Baghdad is telling me the situation is much better.”…

Most Iraqis interviewed by The Times, though, seemed enthusiastic rather than despondent. “Throughout history Baghdad has fallen many times but she always rose up again,” Abu Ibrahim said. “We all know this and that’s why we return. We return to rebuild Baghdad now.”

Your new exit question: Where are they going to put them all?

Tags: White House