What Winning Looks Like

Conservatives who have run out of  patience with President Bush for his reckless entitlement spending programs and are still fuming from the midterm election massacre have been too jaded to embrace his victory unfolding in the new Congress.

He’s winning the Iraq war debate.

The Constitution gives the Congress a simple choice. If you disagree with the President’s deployment of 21,500 troops to Iraq, don’t fund it. 

The chief reason the Congress faces this simple dilemma is because the President has taken all other options off the table, short of accepting defeat, by compromising with them.

Of course you wouldn’t know it listening to complaints from the Democrat party.

For example, take Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Conn.) remarks from his opening statement in a January 30 Foreign Relations Committee hearing, twenty days after the President outlined his new plan for Iraq. "[the plan] does not condition political, economic and military support on Iraq meeting key benchmarks." All through the run up to midterm elections, calls for benchmarks dominated the Iraq debate.

Now, they’ve got benchmarks. Look at what the President outlined in his January 10 address to the nation:

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s provinces by November. To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis. To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs. To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year. And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation’s political life, the government will reform de-Ba’athification laws, and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.

The President also tied a hard condition to these benchmarks. "If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people," he said.

These benchmarks were largely taken from recommendations made by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which seems a long-forgotten memory on Capitol Hill. In fact, the plan for the surge was lifted directly from page 73 of their report. After ruling out a "substantial" increase of troops, in the range of 100,000 to 200,000, the report says: "We could, however, support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up training and equipping the mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective."

On January 23, in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (to become U.S. Commander in Iraq) Lt. Gen. David Petraeus said, "The additional forces that have been directed to move to Iraq will be essential."

So, what to complain about now? Rather than supporting measures from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group those opposed are pushing the envelope to find ways to cut funding for it.

News reports published today blame Republicans for "stalling" and "blocking" debate on the troops surge. Last night all Senate Republicans, with the exception of Sen. Susan Collins (R.-Maine) and Sen. Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.) voted against a deal to bring three resolutions to the floor that did not contain language about funding cuts. (Ironically, to do this Republicans voted against "cloture" which would have closed debate on these measures.)

Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) was eager to get a vote on these measures. Many members of his caucus support cutting funding, but Reid is no fool.

He knows such talk, while non-binding, would significantly decrease his party’s chances to take the executive office in 2008.

Two of his senators vying to get into the White House have already outlined plans use the powers of the purse. Shortly after the President’s Iraq speech, Hillary Clinton revealed a politically nuanced plan to cut funding for Iraqi allies, but conveniently keep funding for American troops. Soon after, Barack Obama countered Hillary with legislation to begin pulling troops no later than May 1, 2007 with complete withdrawal by March 31, 2008.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wisc.), who isn’t running for President, is even more insistent. He has legislation to kill all funding for U.S. troops in Iraq six months after passage.

The most practical resolution yet, led by Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), contains benchmarks that overlap those laid out by the President on January 10.

Like the President’s plan, McCain’s resolution asks the Iraqi government to spend $10 billion on reconstruction efforts. It tells Iraq it must assume control of their provinces, pass legislation to share oil revenue and hold elections. The McCain resolution also asks the government to reform the de-Ba’athification process.

It also contains the same conditional statement. "Whereas, leaders in the Administration and Congress have made it clear to the Iraqi leadership that America’s commitment is not open-ended and that if the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people and the people of Iraq," it says.

McCain’s resolution would bring a straight up or down vote on the President’s plan.

Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.), who supports the McCain resolution, explained the problem plainly to General Peter Pace in a hearing last week. After quoting from page 73 of the Iraq Study Group report Cornyn said, "The President and his advisers have finally said, yes, we agree with you, but yet it seems that some simply don’t want to take yes for an answer."

His assessment is correct. Those pushing plans for defeat prefer failure on their terms than victory on behalf of the President’s.

President Bush often deserves criticism for compromising too much with Democrats on issues like Medicare prescription drug, illegal immigration and the minimum wage increase, but this time he has boxed them into a corner.

For the President to win this round on Iraq, he doesn’t need to win in Iraq. All he needs to do is keep Congress pinned and reserve a free arm to deliver his most powerful blows abroad.