Friday, February 23, 2007

Murtha's Plan Goes Down with a Whimper

The Washington Post reports that Congressional Democrats are going back to the drawing board, and trying to come up with another way to get the US out of Iraq. They have realized that the 'lilliputian strategy' is a political loser, partly because (as Mitch McConnell points out) the Democrats are divided on Iraq.

Expect this to fail as well - not least because the President has veto authority, and as the C-in-C, he has the constitutional authority to carry out the mission authorized under the broad mandate approved by Congress.

On the the Post report:

House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha.

In both chambers, Democratic lawmakers are eager to take up binding legislation that would impose clear limits on U.S. involvement in Iraq after nearly four years of war. But Democrats remain divided over how to proceed. Some want to avoid the funding debate altogether, fearing it would invite Republican charges that the party is not supporting the troops. Others take a more aggressive view, believing the most effective way to confront President Bush's war policy is through a $100 billion war-spending bill that the president ultimately must sign to keep the war effort on track...

"We gave the president that power to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and, if necessary, to depose Saddam Hussein," Biden said of the 2002 resolution in a speech last week before the Brookings Institution. "The WMD was not there. Saddam Hussein is no longer there. The 2002 authorization is no longer relevant to the situation in Iraq."

Biden and Levin are drafting language to present to their colleagues when the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday, following a week-long recess.

The new framework would set a goal for withdrawing combat brigades by March 31, 2008, the same timetable established by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Once the combat phase ends, troops would be restricted to assisting Iraqis with training, border security and counterterrorism...

"Congress has no business micromanaging a war, cutting off funding or even conditioning those funds," said Rep. Jim Cooper (Tenn.), a leading Democratic moderate, who called Murtha's whole effort "clumsy."

Cooper's position underscores the challenges now facing the House Democratic leadership. While the caucus's liberal wing is demanding legislation to end the war almost immediately, moderates such as Cooper say Congress should focus on oversight of the war and stay away from legislation that encroaches on the war powers of the president.

"I think Congress begins to skate on thin ice when we start to micromanage troop deployments and rotations," said Texas's Edwards, whose views reflect those of several other Democrats from conservative districts.

Recall the text of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq:

(a) Authorization.--The President is authorized to use the Armed
Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and
appropriate in order to--
(1) defend the national security of the United States
against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council
resolutions regarding Iraq.

Congressional Democrats may not like it, but the resolution says 'as he determines necessary.' This is a broad mandate, and at the end of the day, no court will step in between the Executive and Legislative Branches to withdraw the authority.

If Congressional Democrats continue down this road of trying to end the operation in Iraq, they will ultimately have to accept that the only way to do that is the way given them in the Constitution: to withdraw funding. Then they will have to decide whom they fear more: the Netroots, or the moderates.

The effort won't succeed, but they may ultimately decide that the political risk of not trying it is too great.

Read also Captain's Quarters and Say Anything.

Update: Check out the Politico as well:

The Biden-Levin resolution would supersede the use-of-force resolution for Iraq passed by Congress in October, 2002. And it would require Bush to seek new authorization from Congress to send more combat troops to Iraq, or make any other dramatic changes in the nature of the U.S. military mission there.

Congressional adoption of a new authorization for war during an ongoing military campaign is unprecedented in American history, according legal experts. And the president and his Republican allies in Congress are sure to oppose it strongly, both on constitutional grounds and politically.

"It will be viewed as a direct challenge to the president," acknowledged a senior Senate Democratic aide. "They are going to fight it tooth-and-nail."

House Democrats, led by Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., are considering inserting their own provisions in the Iraq supplemental bill to essentially deny Bush the use of more troops for Iraq. But Republicans have repeatedly launched political attacks against the Murtha plan during the last two weeks, and Democratic leaders in the Senate do not now favor the proposal, according to aides.

Both Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are under pressure from anti-war lawmakers and outside groups to do more to end U.S. involvement in the Iraq. But neither wants to take any step that risks exposing their party – and in Reid's case, several Democratic presidential candidates – to a political barrage from Republicans.

Unilaterally cutting off funding for the U.S. forces in Iraq as a means to end the war is not now considered politically viable. So, Reid and Pelosi have searched for interim steps. And a new authorization resolution for the Iraq campaign, such as that being drafted by Biden and Levin, is considered another intermediate action that will allow Democrats to continue moving toward ending the war while limiting the political fallout.

There's no way this Democratic strategy can work. If they attach this measure to the legislation to implement the 9/11 recommendations, the President can veto. Heck - he might veto it even without the Biden legislation. If they attach it to the emergency Iraq supplemental, he's even more likely to veto it (and it will cost the Democrats more politically, I argue).

By staking so much political capital on ending the war, when they are unwilling and unable to do so, the Democrats have really screwed themselves. Ultimately, this is going to be very politically costly for them.

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