With George Bush delivering only the second veto of his presidency, the question of funding the mission in Iraq became even more acute. Eighty-six days after the start of the 110th Congress, the military still has not received funding for operations in Iraq this year, and the process has to start from Square One while the Pentagon has to start juggling the books:
President Bush vetoed a $124 billion measure yesterday that would have funded overseas military operations but required him to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as early as July, escalating the most serious confrontation between the White House and Congress over war policy in a generation.
Bush carried through on his veto threat just after the legislation arrived at the White House, calling the timetable a “prescription for chaos and confusion” that would undercut generals. “Setting a deadline for withdrawal would demoralize the Iraqi people, would encourage killers across the broader Middle East and send a signal that America will not keep its commitments,” he said last night. “Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure.”
Democratic congressional leaders cast the veto as willful defiance of the American people. “The president wants a blank check,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said just minutes after Bush’s statement. “The Congress is not going to give it to him.” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said that “if the president thinks that by vetoing this bill he will stop us from trying to change the direction of this war, he is mistaken.”
At some point, a compromise has to be reached — but it cannot take the form of mandated timetables for withdrawal. The British did that in Basra, and the result has been the formation of militias and internecine fighting in a region homogenous to Shi’ites. Imagine what would happen in the melting pot of Baghdad, let alone the al-Qaeda theater of operations in Baghdad. Announcing withdrawal dates only emboldens those who oppose the democratically-elected government of Iraq and encourages the rest to choose the least-egregious warlord to obey.
One point raised in the Washington Post article that might provide an opening is the question of aid to the Iraqi government. That aid which works for issues other than security could get suspended if the National Assembly doesn’t get busy passing the necessary reforms in oil revenue and de/re-Baathification. That would allow us to continue pressing forward on our security strategies while holding Baghdad accountable for lack of progress on political reform. In the past three years, we have spent more that $5 billion in non-military aid in Iraq. That kind of money should give us some leverage with the politicians.
Pressuring the Iraqi government makes sense. It forces them to focus on the tasks at hand and pushes them towards reconciliation amongst the ethicities, rather than triumphalism and vengeance. An approach which does that without hampering our ability to stabilize Baghdad and kill al-Qaeda terrorists in Anbar and Diyala should be strongly considered.
But we cannot allow Congress to dictate the terms of surrender to the American armed forces engaged with the enemy. We cannot withdraw from Iraq — again — only to be forced to return later to finish what we started in 1991. We cannot allow al-Qaeda and its affiliates to create a base of operations in Iraq the way they did in Afghanistan, unless we want a repeat of 9/11. Bush has to remain strong on those principles while finding ways to pressure the Iraqi government for reform in the manner Democrats want. That should be the basis of any compromise on the issue.