Tech Central Station
February 15, 2007
By Alan Dowd
The Senate and House are expected to pass resolutions this week condemning President Bush's plan to deploy an additional 21,000 troops in and around Baghdad. Congress, of course, has every right to take this step. But that doesn't mean it is right to do so.
At this writing, the 535 Members of Congress have introduced no less than 55 bills about Iraq, many of them directly related to the troop-surge plan. Some of the proposals seek to express a "sense of the Congress," which is to say, they would have no force of law, no teeth. (We will get to those in a moment.)
Elsewhere in the Congressional paper pile, there's a bill promising a "New Direction for Iraq." There's another outlining a "Comprehensive Strategy for Iraq." There's one unapologetically and un-embarrassingly demanding a "Safe and Orderly Withdrawal from Iraq." There's one that vows to "Protect the Troops and Bring Them Home." Another calls for redeployment of US forces from Iraq. There's one labeled the "Iraq De-escalation Act." In fact, there are lots of bills that use the term "escalation," purposely tinged, as it is, with the dark shadows of Johnson and Nixon.
One of the more straight-forward and potentially consequential proposals, from Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) would repeal the measure that authorized President Bush to go to war in Iraq in the first place. (Even if one disagrees with his ends, Congressman Farr deserves credit for his clarity, consistency and conviction.) Many of Congressman Farr's colleagues apparently have forgotten, but perhaps you remember it—the resolution that 296 House members and 77 Senators supported; the resolution that Senators Reid, Clinton, Kerry, Hagel, Snowe, Biden, Rockefeller and so many others rallied around once upon a time. Among other things, that resolution:
- Recalled that Iraq entered into a ceasefire agreement with the United Nations and promised to eliminate its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs, and to end its support for international terrorism;
- Concluded that Iraq posed a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security by "continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations;"
- Pointed out that members of al Qaeda were known to be in Iraq, and that Iraq continued to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations;
- Noted that Congress had already authorized the President "to use United States Armed Forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 (1990) in order to achieve implementation of Security Council Resolution 660, 661, 662, 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, and 677;"
- Asserted that "Iraq's ongoing support for international terrorist groups, combined with its development of weapons of mass destruction in direct violation of its obligations under the 1991 cease-fire and other United Nations Security Council resolutions, make clear that it is in the national security interests of the United States and in furtherance of the war on terrorism that all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions be enforced, including through the use of force if necessary;" and
- Explained that the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 "expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime."
In other words, this was not an undeclared war. This was not a case of the President committing troops without prior approval, as so many presidents have done throughout American history. There was no bait and switch. And if there was, sizable majorities in the House and Senate were right in the middle of it.
Back to those "sense of the Congress" resolutions. They are generally feel-good measures allowing Congress to take a stand on this or that issue of the day—displeasure with TV violence, shock over genocide in Sudan or Rwanda or Bosnia, support for Christmas displays or the liberation of Iraq, sadness over some luminary's death, concern over a president's foreign policy.
Indeed, several Senators, probably a majority, have expressed a desire to express their disagreement with the troop surge (which, it pays to recall, is already well underway). The problem is they don't all agree on how to express that sentiment. Some Senators don't like that "escalation" word. Some say the surge is "not in the national interest of the United States." Some want to put the Iraqi government on notice. Others support the new policy without reservation. Still others sensibly note that the same Senators who oppose the troop surge just voted 81-0 to confirm Gen. David Petraeus to take over as commander of US forces in Iraq.
According to Gen. Patraeus, "the additional forces that have been directed to move to Iraq will be essential." A Central Command press statement adds: "Petraeus said he would not be able to do his job as commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq without the additional 21,000 troops President Bush has pledged to Iraq."
But less than a fortnight after confirming the general and wishing him Godspeed, the Senate's anti-surge bloc wants to hamstring his mission with a non-binding rebuke of the President who outlined that very mission. If that's not Orwellian enough, consider how the anti-surge bloc somehow claims that the rebuke is at once meaningless (vis-à-vis our troops and our enemies) and momentous (vis-à-vis the direction of the President's foreign and defense policy).
Like it or not, the real sense of the Senate was expressed when it voted overwhelmingly to confirm Gen. Petraeus and thus implicitly endorsed the President's plan, just as the real sense of the new House majority is expressed in the fact that it has not yet—after more than a month in office—mustered the will or votes to stop funding the war it ostensibly opposes.