Hillary's Pretend Plan to Cap and Cut Troops in Iraq

With an eye on 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton countered President Bush’s decision to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, offering her own plan to add troops to Afghanistan and cap the number of American troops stationed in Iraq before beginning a phased withdrawal.

Clinton, however, admitted the legislation she would soon be introducing would only be symbolic. Before a packed room of reporters and photographers in the Capitol, she conceded, “There is very little chance in the short run we [the Senate] will pass any legislation [on Iraq].”

“Obviously, we are going to do whatever we can, but I can count,” she explained, meaning she knew her plan would not get enough votes to pass. “We’re probably, in the Senate, [are] going to look at bipartisan resolution, which I fully support. And then we are going to be looking at appropriations.”

The bipartisan resolution she spoke of is a non-binding proposal by Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.), Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R.-Neb.) to force members of Congress to cast a vote of support or opposition to the President’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

The resolution states: “It is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by escalating the United States military force presence in Iraq.”

Biden said he had worked with the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Dick Lugar (R.-Ind.), to make sure it will be brought up for a vote in their committee on January 24, a day after the President’s scheduled State of the Union address.

When I asked Biden if he thought his resolution was a stepping stone to cut funding for the additional troops and draw down existing forces in Iraq, he said: “This stands on its own period. If somehow this ends up getting ignored, there’s going to be all kinds of proposals put forward, all kinds of proposals.”

Hillary said she supported the resolution because she hoped it would allow Congress to take the “next step.” She then described the next step as “dealing with funding in the appropriations process [and] looking at caps both through legislation and as a part of the appropriations process.”

Should the resolution be approved by a large margin, there could be a chance for Hillary to make headway on her plan to shift military resources from Iraq to Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan is a success story thus far, and yet we know it’s going to be under increasing pressure in the months ahead,” she said in the press conference. “We should be adding more American military forces [there] and we should be requiring the NATO countries to fulfill their commitments to the forces that they had promised us.”

“In Iraq, the prescription is the opposite. Rather than an escalation of U.S. troops who I do not believe will contribute to long-term success in Iraq, we should be beginning a phased redeployment of U.S. troops.”

Hillary would not set a date certain for U.S. troops to be out of Iraq, but said she would like to begin the process in the next “couple months.”

Her legislation would cap U.S. troops in Iraq at the levels in place on Jan. 1, 2007, and require the White House to get authorization from Congress to add any more troops.

“This type of troops limit has ample historical precedence,” she said. “Troops in Lebanon in 1983 and more recently, Congress has limited the number of U.S. troops in Columbia.”

Secondly, Hillary would impose conditions for continued funding of the Iraqi security forces and private contractors. She specified, “I do not support cutting funding for American troops, but I do support cutting funding for Iraqi forces if the Iraqi government does not meet set conditions.”

Finally, she laid out a series of benchmarks for the administration that included certification Iraq had disarmed their militias, equitable sharing of oil revenues, constitutional changes to “ensure rights for each ethnic community,” reverse debathification and an engagement in a regional diplomatic initiative.

White House spokesman Tony Snow responded to Hillary’s plan in a press briefing yesterday. He said, “The idea of placing a cap on troops, it—well, what it does is something no commander in chief, I think, would want to have, which is it binds the hands of the commander in chief and also the generals, and frankly, also the troops on the ground in terms of responding to situations and contingencies that might occur there.”

Snow added, “To tie one’s hand in a time of war is a pretty extreme move.”