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February 15, 2007

Iraq War Debate: It's About Time
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Today I watched about six hours of the Iraq war debate on the floor of the House of Representatives...and although the subject was nothing to be glad about, it sure is good to see Congress actually debating issues once again. The other heartening sign from the lineup of speakers: 11 Republicans spoke out for the resolution (in other words against the President's surge idea). Is this a sign of Republicans revolting from within to save their party? I hope so.

What those 11 Members were up against is formidable: Here's a line from the debate strategy memo written by conservatives Peter Hoeckstra and John Shadegg.

“The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily.” Shadegg and Hoekstra warn, if conservatives are forced to debate “the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.”

My new favorite Republican (besides progressive favorite Christopher Shays and stunningly courageous Walter Jones) is John Duncan. His five minute speech laid out the principles of true conservatism...and how our circumstances in Iraq go against conservative tradition.

Many stuck to the "what Iraq war?" talking after awhile I started muting them. But some conservatives outdid themselves. Not only did they not mention the Iraq war or what got us there, they were veritably introspection free! Duncan Hunter managed to blame the Clinton Administration at least twice, Pete Sessions kept saying "the Democrat" party (um, Pete, everybody is onto that one) but the grand prize goes to Marsha Blackburn--who not only relied on that tired old trope about being with us or with the terrorists and hating freedom and blah blah blah...but managed to blame Jimmy Carter!!! Well done!! Gentlemen, send that woman a copy of the memo, framed.


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I just checked my dog-eared copy of the US Constitution and it doesn't say anything like "the Congress shall debate" but it does say that the Congress shall have power to provide for the common defense and to declare war. The current debate, while interesting, has nothing to do with the exercise of power, which this Congress, like previous ones, will probably disdain. In other words they might pass a symbolic ineffective non-binding resolution about the tactics of the commander but then pass a supplemental budget to continue Operation Iraqi Fiasco at present or higher levels. Six hundred thousand dead, many crippled, two million refugees, two trillion dollars to be spent, our troops in greater jeopardy every day--it's not like it's a real problem.

The Jimmy Carter reference shows that someone on her staff has read Dinesh D'Souza's latest, where he explains how it's all Jimmy's fault. I'm not linking to the darn thing, go look it (or his appearance on the Colbert Report) up for yourself.

I agree, this is disappointing in its blandness, but let's see what happens with the budget....

Lorelei (what a nice name!),
The budget, tied with a yellow ribbon, will pass "to support the troops". And it might even be academic as the US loses its Iraq War (which is why the focus is being changed to Iran). We have entered a new era in warfare where man-portable cruise missiles, rifles, rocket launchers and machined (in Iran--for sure!) steel tubes can defeat the most expensive, best-trained and best-equipped military force in history. "By the rude bridge that arched the flood . . ."

For more on where the appropriations process is likely to lead, see this interview with Murtha:

Basically, readiness requirements and time limits on deployment that will force a reduction in troops in Iraq, plus no permanent bases, and possibly requirements to close Gitmo and get congressional authorization for any attack on Iran. It won't end the war overnight, but it is a real start, if he pulls it off.

It's only a supplemental, so I think it can still be filibustered in the Senate. But the politics of blocking an appropriation "for the troops" is complex. And if Bush vetoes it, HE'S the one abandoning them.

Lorelei, with your background in Eastern Europe, it would be interesting for you to compare how Congress debated the actions Clinton took (Bosnia and, especially, against Serbian targets on behalf of Kosovar Albanians).

Should a Democratic Congress use the same sorts of tactics to curtail presidential power (invoking the War Powers Resolution, bringing cases in which they don't have standing to the Supreme Court, mewling over Declarations of War that weren't made, not to mention bills that forbade the use of ground troops against Serbia)?

I say this because all that seems like such ancient history (less than eight years ago), and many of us would conclude that Clinton was on the right side of history by defying both the UN Security Council (a US-led NATO did the heavy lifting) and a GOP-dominated Congress to save hundreds of thousands of lives in Kosovo.

Why should Congress deny to Bush what was taken by Clinton with far less legal rigor?

dear Soldier
this is a really good point. I was in grad school for much of the Balkans wars...and came to DC just in time to see the Republican Congress beat Clinton up over Kosovo and peacekeeping generally. So I'm no expert. Boy do I hear different opinions from people about the air strikes, the legality, the precedent.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that it turned out okay in retrospect which makes it less interesting to debate...and that also the premise of the war--humanitarian intervention--stayed the same throughout... it didn't change in the middle to become a rationalization like Iraq has for many of its original champions. and I also think that alot of people feel that NATO is a fine substitute for the UN. Truth be told, many people just think all those acronyms are the same the distinction is lost...between the military alliance utterly dominated by the USA and the international participatory venue of the UN...anyway... The bitterness against President Bush is aside from the war itself, it is about the deception. This is on both sides of the aisle, btw...

Regarding the Murtha move, I tend to agree with soldier that the commander-in-chief should be allowed command prerogatives to conduct a war supported by the Congress, which the Iraq war unfortunately is. "Command prerogatives", to me, certainly include tactical decisions concerning where and how to deploy military forces--about which the Congress, with all due respect to Mr. Murtha, is patently not qualified. In the present case we can surmise that Murtha's legislation was drafted in the Pentagon, but that doesn't affect the constitutional issues.

Applicable provisions of the US Constitution:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence . . To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; . .To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; . . .To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; . . .

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; . . .

If Clinton got away with something he shouldn't, why would we extend the same mistake to somebody far stupider?

Regardless how the legalities turn out, the subject won't come up very often. As we see from iraq it takes years of unrelenting failure before Congress even considers interfering.

If we're a country of laws we should act in accordance with the law and not blindly follow precedent. Many of our recent presidents have left office in disgrace, so they can hardly serve as examples for proper conduct.

I also agree with JT that Iraq will go on --until either the troops refuse to go on missions and act against their superiors (as in Vietnam) or we are defeated. For example, speaking of Murtha, it was almost eighteen months ago (and how many deaths and injuries?) that he posited that we should redeploy from Iraq immediately, but now having apparently accepted the war he's just tinkering with command prerogatives.

I agree that Murtha's approach is a bit of a bank shot. But the provisions he's talking about really would make it impossible to maintain 140,000 troops in Iraq. That is a start. And if he can get these provisions through the supplemental, the regular defense appropriation bill comes next.

It's not the cleanest way to proceed, but it's the way they're going to proceed, and it just might work.

Look for another signing statement, then business as usual.

I guess I'm still a little lost. Wherefore all this kvetching about "the Surge?"

On one hand, Congress unanimously promotes David Petraeus to become viceroy of Baghdad. The good general is the very architect of "the Surge" as a tactical notion, the first plank in an overall strategy to pacify the many insurgencies threatening the nascent, albeit weak, central government in Baghdad.

It might or might not work, but does it not send a muddled message to, one week, agreeing that the man charged with implementing the "Surge" tactically is lauded by Congress, and the next week arguing over the sagacity of the very tactics he proposes?

If one were a professional military man, gazing at Congress, which message is heard?

Is this all Kabuki theater, with a non-binding resolution that runs counter to the binding promotions Congress makes?

Has Congress thoughtfully considered whether the consequences of the resolution will give succor to our enemies in the field?

To which branch of government should be given aspects of the tactical realm, the labor needs of divisions, the sorts of strategies to be employed for foreign policy goals?

As a political matter, wasn't 2004 also a referendum on the war? Does not Bush have a post-WMD "mandate" of his own he believes the nation wishes for him to pursue?

As a lifelong Democrat, I'm a bit flummoxed by the politicization (by both parties) of those in uniform. If commanders in the field believe they need more troops, to whom should they send this message?

Again I agree with soldier, on General Petraeus.

News report:
Senate Democrats relentlessly questioned Lt. Gen David Petraeus in a preview of confirmation hearings to come, but confirmed him unanimously as the top U.S. commander in Iraq despite disagreeing with the policy he has been tasked with implementing.

Senate Dems talk one way and vote another. It's the same on the war in general. They'll blah blah blah and then vote the funds anyhow. I don't know if it's Kabuki, but it is certainly theater of some kind, and they think they're playing to an audience of fools. Well guess who the fools are. No wonder their popularity is even lower than Bush's. The only thing we can trust them to vote honestly on is their next pay raise--they really want that.

"As war and government prove, insanity is the most contagious of diseases".--Edward Abbey

Politicians who aren't ready to retire have a big problem about opposing the war. It goes like this -- once we're out of iraq, the people who want them to get us out of iraq won't particularly reward them for it. The politicians who get us out of iraq are doing the obvious necessary thing, and on the next election we'll be looking at the issues of the day.

But the fanatics who support the war despite everything will have very long memories indeed. Look at vietnam, it's been over 30 years and we still get new theories about how we had it won until the politicians lost it for us. And any politician who participated in that who's still in office 30+ years later has those people deadset against him. Now. Despite anything else he's done for them.

Ten years from now we're going to have a lot of idiots arguing that we had iraq won, everything was going perfectly except the traitorous media didn't report it, and then Congress wasted all our sacrifices. Congress made us give up our already-won victory.

This is a bigger problem for republicans than democrats, because most of these idiots will never vote democrat anyway. But it's a serious concern for all national legislators. They can't be sure they won't get shot by irate lunatics for opposing the war.So they're dancing around, trying to make it look to their supporters like they're opposing the war but also trying not to do anything that will get the crazies to blame it on them personally.

It's like if your unit is supposed to take a hill where the enemy's dug in, and you don't have a lot of support. The fastest way might be to do a big frontal assault and take your losses, and you'll do that if the objective calls for it, but otherwise you'll look for a method with less exposure. And there's no point in you personally painting a big bullseye on your chest and charging the hill doing your best to get the enemy's attention. Unless it's part of a plan that's worth your sacrifice....

So anyway, suppose that Congress tries to impose something on Bush. As Don points out, Bush can make another signing statement and ignore it. So then what? Get the Supreme Court to make a judgement? The Supreme Court that elected Bush in 2000 plus Bush's appoiontees?

Maybe Bush vetoes it. Then it takes a bunch of republicans going along to override the veto.

Where this is heading is impeachment. And it probably won't be impeachment over Bush ignoring Congress about the war, or Bush illegally taking the Social Security money to pay for the war after Congress won't pay. One of the other scandals will surface, or half a dozen of them, and Congress will impeach him over one or more of those. Plus Cheney.

In the meantime, it's shadow boxing. Republicans who refuse to oppose the war will probably be hurt in 2008. Democrats who can be smeared too easily for opposing it will be hurt in 2008. It's a game they play when they need to wait for events.

Succor to our enemies in the field is irrelevant at this point. When the enemies in the field shifted their focus to iraqi troops and government workers, we said it was because they were soft targets while our soldiers were hard targets. But that was just our interpretation. What was really going on was they knew back then that we were going to leave, and ever since then iraqis have been fighting iraqis to prepare for what happens after we're gone. They don't get any joy fromi our Congress arguing about when to pull out, they won't even get much joy when Congress agrees when to pull out. They've already factored that in. We're a random factor until we go, because nobody can be quite sure who we'll attack next. But everybody in iraq knows we'll be gone within a year or two and maybe sooner.

If commanders in the field think they need more troops, they should have told Bush. He promised he'd send them more troops if they asked, and none of them ever did. Ah, maybe what they should have done was ask for more troops, and tell the media they asked for more troops, and send in their resignations. But none of them did that either.

At this point there aren't any more troops. And it would be hard to find them if we wanted to train more. We're close to maintaining our numbers with just a few who wouldn't have passed the old standards. But try to increase those numbers and who do we have to draw on except more of the unfit?

If we need more troops we need a draft. Tell Bush we need more troops. Tell Congress. Be ready to resign.

Petraeus is not viceroy of iraq. Bremer was viceroy of iraq. Iraq is sovereign now, and we don't have a viceroy there. Our soldiers are guests in their country, uninvited guests who are less than welcome but still guests. While traditionally we have had no iraqis in our chain of command and the iraqi army took our orders, we're now trying out a plan where there are two parallel chains of command whose responsibilities are muddled, so theoretically it won't exactly be true that we don't take iraqi orders and the iraqi army only takes our orders. Since our military plans can at best buy time for iraqi politicians to find a solution, we need to show them the utmost respect and fully cooperate with them in their counterinsurgency plans.Remember that the surge isn't Petraeus's plan, it's an iraqi plan that Petraeus has accepted. He didn't get enough troops, though. There aren't enough troops.

And it's a stopgap plan. You can't credibly claim to govern a third-world nation without control of the capital. When there are rebels killing people in the capital of liberia we say that liberia is in chaos, we don't say the current government has things under control. So we have to get control of Baghdad or the whole world knows the iraqi government is a sham. But say the plan works perfectly and in 3 months our troops in cooperation with iraqi troops have the whole city pacified. What do we do for an encore? Pacifying Baghdad just gives us the credibility to stay longer, it's a minimum goal. We don't have the troops to spread out from Baghdad, we have to pull troops from elsewhere just to have enough to occupy the capital. We can hope that maybe iraqi politicians will come up with something. But they haven't come up with anything yet. They haven't even managed to agree about asking us to leave, much less anything innovative.

Secretary Gates said yesterday that we have the troops.

". . . we have sufficient equipment to man the new units that are going over. And we have sufficient reserve capacity -- don't forget, 2.4 million Americans active Guard and Reserve, about 200,000 in the gulf region, another 200,000 around the globe, leaving about two million Americans still available. . . ."

Don, there are legal limits to our use of the Guard. I guess Bush could declare a national emergency if he wanted to.... It is true we could take more troops out of korea etc.,13319,123574,00.html

The army is only keeping about 10,000 men under stop-loss, down from a maximum of 25,000. Part of that is that soldiers who think they're going to suffer stop-loss will re-enlist rather than let that happen. But now Gates says they have to minimise stop-loss.

And a lot of troops are spending a year in iraq and a year home, and he wants to cut that back to a year in iraq and two years home. It won't affect a whole lot of troops if we do it though, since we'll be out of iraq in 2 years.

They could take more soldiers out of support positions and replace them with civilians. That wouldn't necessarily keep re-enlistment rates up, though.

I guess we could get modest increases in combat strength without a draft. If we'd started 4 years ago we'd be in better shape now.

If Gates says he has the people I think we should believe him. He has options.

I was hiking out in some remote woods in Southern California a couple of months ago and ran across some young guys with packs wandering around. They were sailors off a ship learning land navigation, which isn't too useful on a ship. So there are a lot of bodies in the Navy and Air Force which are available for different functions in Iraq. There have been Navy casualties in the reports. The big helo that was shot down recently was Navy with a lady pilot incidentally.

And there's always money. With the troops as in foreign policy almost anyone can be bought.

News report:
Every Marine who re-enlists before Sept. 30 will get at least $10,000, including those who already re-enlisted this fiscal year, according to a Corps-wide message released Wednesday.

“Enlisted Marines with less than 20 years of active service who re-enlisted or will re-enlist ... for a period of 4 or more years are eligible,” states MarAdmin 103/07, which outlined the awarding of Assignment Incentive Pay to those Marines. “This designates all enlisted Marine Corps assignments as eligible.”

Marines with 20 to 27 years of service can re-enlist for three years for the $10,000 bonus.

In two other messages, Corps officials announced that incentive pay — $500 per month — also will be available to recruiters who agree to extend their tours six to 12 months on top of their 36-month tours, as well as Marines whose deployments have been extended and who agree to extend their enlistment or re-enlistment to finish out their tour.

If ten grand doesn't do it then they'll make it twenty. Congress is good for it.

Bush will keep this up for two more years with support from the Congress. It's all about Bush's legacy. The American people invest many hopes and dreams in the almighty president and so their legacies have to be protected above all else. Obama or Clinton would be no different. The Pentagon budget is huge and funds can be transferred as necessary. The only hope is to get the troops to refuse to drive or walk around mine-infested and sniper-covered streets. Too many of them still think that they're doing something useful.

"If Gates says he has the people I think we should believe him. He has options."

Don, Gates is a functionary in the Bush administration. He has some credibility because he's new, but there's no particular reason to believe him about anything. Since he's a member of the Bush administration, he will publicly say whatever seems to help with US public opinion in the short run. He may tell the truth by accident, but what he says has no particular relationship with reality.

It's true that by standard economic theory there's some price we can offer that will bring in any number of recruits up to the population size or larger. For example, if we offer each of our physically fit illegal aliens a million dollars plus citizenship and generous retirement benefits if they'll enlist for the duration, we could get a lot of troops quick. And citizenship is already a big incentive for foreigners to join the US army. Come to think of it, that would be an effective way to get arabic speakers in the army. Offer egyptians and syrians US citizenship plus generous bonuses if they enlist, and make sure they have at least minimal proficiency in english....

But I think we've seen enough to predict what they'll actually do. They'll say we have almost enough troops though they'll increase the size of the total army by say 50,000 or so and the marines by 20,000, over the next few years. And they'll talk about how they can get more troops but they don't really need them.

And they'll put out fog machines to create "fog of war". Look at the people talking about the "surge" being "new troops". It's going to be a small minority of surge troops who haven't been to iraq before. All they're doing is keeping some guys there longer and sending some others earlier, and they'll tell those guys they'll make it up to them later.

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), that

(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; [We'll give you as much money as you want for the war. Will a couple of trillion do it?]and

(2) Congress disapproves of the decision of President George W. Bush announced on Jan. 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq. [All your other decisions are fine, you're doing a great job, it's been a wonderful four years, so you lied a little--we think it's a great idea to have young Americans dying for a new Islamic state allied with Iran, and we don't care if you extend tours and send some troops earlier, but we disapprove your decision to deploy 20,000 more troops. Stop laughing--we mean it. We have agents counting troops getting on airplanes!]

Let's see, what will we debate next? Our next pay raise? Naw, that's a done deal.

oops--turns out "the Senate concurring" was a bit hasty on the part of the House

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