Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Giving the administration a political figleaf

With today's passage by the Senate of a deadline to withdraw from Iraq as part of continued funding of the war, I believe the White House has been given a political figleaf that the President is probably too idiotic to use.

When the war appropriations funding bill reaches the President with a time line included for withdrawing forces it is his chance to get out of the manifest disaster that is Iraq while proclaiming loudly that he was forced to do so against his will. Congress sent him a funding bill that had the time line, and forced him to abort the mission before it was complete. The administration could then loudly proclaim that the disaster which inevitably follows is the Congress' fault.

To be sure, the truth of the matter is that whenever American forces leave Iraq there will be a tremendously horrible cataclysm. The only difference between whether this happens in 2008, or any other year in the future are the number of ruined American lives, and the amount of money flushed down the toilet. The sooner we end this charade, the better for this nation, and the sooner the inevitable consequence of Bush's folly in Iraq can be gotten over with.

Keep in mind that the Congressional time line would hit in the midst of the 08 Presidential election. Whoever the Republican candidate is must be absolutely PRAYING that the President signs a bill with a time line immediately prior to the election. It gives Republicans the best of both worlds. The war ends, and they have the fig leaf of Congressionally mandated time lines to point to when things go sour.

However, I fully expect the President to veto the bill and send it back to Congress. Or he may simply sign the bill and attach a signing statement asserting his right to ignore the law he just signed. Whatever course President Bush chooses, I expect the method by which the occupation of Iraq is wrapped up will be the next Presidents problem... not Bush's.

I believe the timing being pushed by Congress is hardly accidental. There are two political reasons for setting a time line for next summer. First, is the obvious impact the time line has on the election. It must make it difficult for the President to not sign the bill despite the public stands of the Republican candidates in support of the Presidents Iraq disaster. They must be salivating at the prospect of election season with Iraq in the rear view mirror except the fat target of Democrats in Congress who they would like to blame for the "loss". This pressure from his party will certainly weigh on the President when push comes to shove and the bill with the timetable hits his desk.

The 2nd consideration in the timing I believe was for the Congress to try to pre-empt the President in the policy. It is widely accepted that if the military remains in Iraq when 2008 dawns that Republicans expect to be walloped at the polls. The obvious answer is to withdraw the troops post haste. Congress can take some credit by putting a time line just prior to the election, even if the President was planning to do it anyway.

The absolute best political outcome for Democrats would be for the President to simply veto the bill. This then would be his war lock stock and barrel. He was given the opportunity to end it and petulantly refused to do so. Democrats did what they could to end the war but what can they really do with slim majorities and this President?

There is another consideration as well. What is the right thing to do regardless of the politics? The right thing to do has never been a guiding principle for the Bush administration. It's always been about politics with them. The rampant incompetence and cronyism has led to disaster upon disaster, including major consequences in the Iraq war. The right thing to do is to cut our losses and get out. Keep troops in the area as an over the horizon response force in case terror camps form. Work with Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to stop the turmoil from spreading. And most importantly do whatever it takes to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

So setting the time line may carry inherent domestic political danger, but it is the first baby step in carrying out the right thing to do.

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