Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that Democrats won’t approve more money for the Iraq war this year unless President Bush agrees to begin bringing troops home.
By the end of the week, the House and Senate planned to vote on a $50 billion measure for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill would require Bush to initiate troop withdrawals immediately with the goal of ending combat by December 2008…
If Democrats refuse to send Bush the $50 billion, the military would have to drain its annual budget to keep the wars afloat. Last week, Congress approved a $471 billion budget for the military that pays mostly for non-war related projects, such as depot maintenance and weapons development.
The tactic stops short of blocking money outright from being used on the war, an approach that has divided Democrats and fueled Republican criticism that Democrats are eager to abandon the troops. But forcing the Pentagon into a painful budget dance to pay for the wars spares Democrats from having to write a blank check on the unpopular war.
If the left wasn’t quite so heavily invested in defeat this would be an easy one to play. For starters, instead of the constant “it’s not working it’s not working it’s not working” refrain, they could point to stories like this and take a “declare victory and go home” approach. Short and sweet: IEDs are down, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s been neutralized, the curfew’s being lifted in Baghdad, Anbar is almost totally under tribal control. Let’s get out before we jinx it. As it is, they can’t take that line for the simple reason that it admits progress, and there can be no progress in Iraq ever, under any circumstances, lest the stake driven through the heart of the Bush doctrine come loose and the body rise from its tomb. Meanwhile, the shrewd thing to do between now and the election would be to work with Bush to get him the funds he needs and get a few basic concessions in return, like a nonbinding timetable. That lets Reid and Pelosi have it both ways. If things continue to improve, they get to take some of the credit at election time for not having quit on the troops. If things go south, they get to disclaim most of the responsibility by saying they gave the military every last chance but ultimately just didn’t have the votes to pull the plug the way they wanted to, which is why Americans need to go to the polls and give them great big congressional majorities this time etc etc. That’s what they’ll probably end up doing in practice, although there’ll have to be plenty of theatrical anguished shirt-rending in the meantime to please their base, which is disaffected but isn’t going anywhere when push comes to shove next November.
It’s a testament to how much Bush believes in the war that he’s not seizing the opportunity to agree to a timetable. It’d be easy to do, just the opposite of the Democratic approach: declare victory, announce that the Iraqis are ready to take over, and institute a non-binding schedule for withdrawal. It’d help the GOP a lot, too, by blunting some of the public focus on the war. (Which is already way down since January.) But as another Bush once said: not gonna do it.