Push-Me, Pull-You Politics

Iraq: Pulled Out Or Pushed Out
Robert Dreyfuss
March 09, 2007

Robert Dreyfuss is an Alexandria, Va.-based writer specializing in politics and national security issues. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam , a contributing editor at The Nation and a writer for Mother Jones, The American Prospect and Rolling Stone. He can be reached through his website, www.robertdreyfuss.com.

Two parliaments, half a world away from each other, struggled with calls to end the war in Iraq yesterday. In Washington, Democrats in the U.S. Congress ended weeks of squabbling to settle on the outlines of a legislative plan to end the war no later than August, 2008, and perhaps sooner. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, a new constellation of political parties is beginning to take shape in the Iraqi parliament, united around the idea of asking U.S. forces to leave Iraq as soon as possible. Tremendous obstacles stand in the way of pro-peace forces both in Congress and in Iraq’s parliament, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that the Iraqis will ask the United States to get out of Iraq long before Congress can force the issue.

Most congressional progressives and members of the Out of Iraq Caucus aren’t thrilled with the plan cobbled together by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Even so, let’s give credit where credit is due. Four months after an election in which American voters went to the polls to demand an end to the war, the Democrats responded by proposing a timetable to do just that, calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2007 if President Bush can’t certify that the Iraqi government is meeting a series of specific benchmarks, and by August 2008 even if those benchmarks are met.

The Democratic House leadership is: facing a nearly unified Republican caucus in both the House and Senate opposed to any weakening of the U.S. role in Iraq; threatened by a promised White House veto; and dragged down by the anchor of several dozen conservative, Blue Dog Democrats afraid to challenge President Bush over the war. Nevertheless, House leaders have probably done about the best they could. It won’t satisfy anti-war activists, who’ll have to redouble efforts to turn up the heat on the congressional Dems. And it hasn’t exactly won plaudits from congressional progressives, who are pressing their own plan to force a more definitive exit, and sooner, by making more aggressive use of the power of the purse to force a withdrawal by the end of 2007—even though most of them are likely to hold their noses and vote for Pelosi’s watered-down plan, too.

But the harsh reality of the American political system, in which the White House holds most of the cards—from its veto power to the president’s role as commander in chief—means that Congress is playing politics, not making policy. To be sure, it’s good politics: over the next 18 months or so, the Democrats can draw a sharp distinction between their support for a withdrawal deadline and the president’s obsessive insistence on escalating the war. That, in turn, can help guarantee that the November 2008 election results in another Democratic landslide. A recent USA Today poll showed that a stunning 77 percent of Americans favor bringing U.S. troops home if the Iraqi government fails to end the civil-war violence there. But the House legislation isn’t likely to become law. Nor is an anti-war resolution in the Senate, where the Republicans are planning a filibuster to stop it.

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