Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Democrats Blink, Angering Antiwar Ranks

US News - Media analysts are casting the Democrats' decision to pass an Iraq spending bill without a pullout provision as a win for the White House. MSNBC's Hardball, for example, said "after weeks of refusing to back down to the White House, today Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did just that." NBC Nightly News reported, "The Democrats will argue they took a tough stand here, but the reality is that facing a veto threat, they backed off." USA Today describes the Democrats as "flinching," the New York Times calls "the decision to back down" a "wrenching reversal for leading Democrats," and the Washington Times titles its front-page story "Democrats Capitulate On War Funds."

In what could be bad news for the Democrats, their concession to the White House has angered anti-war activists and lawmakers, who are now expected to oppose the legislation. In a bizarre turn, the Washington Post notes even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she "was so disappointed" that she might actually vote against the bill. In fact, it's becoming apparent that GOP votes will be needed to pass it at least in the House. The Los Angeles Times recounts that when House Democratic leaders "presented the plan at their weekly caucus meeting, freshmen and members of the Out of Iraq Caucus complained vociferously." And "antiwar groups that stood behind the Democrats as they pressed for a withdrawal also expressed disappointment. 'It is remarkable that they can't stand up to President Bush and his war,' said Susan Shaer, Win Without War National co-chairman." The Washington Times quotes Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat and co-founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus, saying, "It's the president's legislation, not the Democrats." Sen. Russ Feingold, "one of the chamber's loudest antiwar voices, called the benchmarks 'toothless.'" Said Feingold, "There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action."

Will the plan pass the House without the full support of the Democratic caucus? The Hill reports that if Democrats "are looking for Republican votes, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) thinks they can find them. He says he would be surprised if the proposal cannot garner 10 to 15 GOP votes. 'If the bill is without timelines, there would be a few Republicans who have bases and military retirees in their districts who feel the need to support the troops,' Jones said."

There is, however, a caveat to this White House "victory": A number of reports suggest the move only gains Bush a few months (until September) before members of his own party start demanding that his "surge" show results. NBC Nightly News, for example, reported "the real fight is in September," when "the new authorization happens for the war going forward. That's when [Gen.] Petraeus reports to Congress and says whether the surge has worked." On its website, meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that coinciding with the deal, a new poll shows that "while the largest chunk of Americans is still pessimistic about the war in Iraq, there are some signs -- Bush's recent moves -- such as the surge of additional troops into Baghdad that began in February -- have won back a sliver of support, according to a recent poll from Harris Interactive." The new poll "finds that 30% of Americans rate...Bush's handling of Iraq 'excellent' or 'pretty good,' a slight improvement from 27% in March. The president's positive ratings on Iraq have been south of 50% since March 2004."

What About The "Pork?" Largely unmentioned in this morning's media is the fact that in vetoing the first bill, the President cited not one but two key objections: the pullout timetable (that's now out of the equation) and the unrelated domestic spending included in what was supposed to be a war funding measure. As Congress prepares to send a new version of the bill to the White House, what some have termed "pork" will still be there. As the Washington Post noted, the measure "will be split into two parts when it comes before the House," one dealing with war spending and the other with the unrelated domestic items. Once in the Senate, both parts will be put together and once approved will be sent to Bush as one bill. In addition, the Washington Times reports the Iraq legislation will include a hike in the minimum wage. Unless the President has now accepted the "pork" in exchange for the Democratic concession on the pullout issue, a new clash between Congress and the White House could be right around the corner.

US Officials Contemplate Plan B For Iraq

Bush Administration and Pentagon officials are reportedly preparing contingency plans for Iraq policy in the event the troop "surge" fails to achieve its goals. The CBS Evening News reported the surge "has not reached full strength, but the Bush Administration has already begun work on a plan B for after the surge." Field commanders "report modest progress," but CBS News "has been told they have also concluded the Iraqi government will not meet any of the benchmarks for political reconciliation among its warring factions. As Admiral William Fallon, the overall commander for the Middle East, put it, 'reconciliation isn't likely in the time we have available.'" Currently, plan B "is nothing more than ideas about how the US could change course in Iraq, but it's a recognition that both political support and the Army are wearing out." On its front page, the Washington Post says "top US commanders and diplomats in Iraq are completing a far-reaching campaign plan for a new US strategy, laying out military and political goals and endorsing the selective removal of hardened sectarian actors from Iraq's security forces and government." The "overarching aim" of the plan, "which sets goals for the end of this year and the end of 2008, is more political than military: to negotiate settlements between warring factions in Iraq from the national level down to the local level."

Bush May Double Combat Troops In Iraq The San Francisco Chronicle reported the Bush Administration is "quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday." The "little-noticed second surge" could "boost the number of combat soldiers from 52,500 in early January to as many as 98,000."