The Senate’s Vacuous War Debate
In addition to rejecting John Kerry’s hard deadline for withdrawing from Iraq, the Senate on Thursday also voted on an Iraq proposal sponsored by Democratic Senators Jack Reed and Carl Levin. The Reed-Levin amendment was a non-binding resolution that called on the President to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by the end of this year and to submit estimates for further withdrawals beyond 2006, but established no final deadline for completing a withdrawal. The amendment failed by a vote of 39-60.
I am not sure what the public gained through the “debate” of this proposal.
Reed-Levin would not have mandated — nor even suggested — any change in the President’s current Iraq policy. Here’s what the resolution asked of the President…
(D) the President should–Yet according to the June 9 International Herald Tribune, the beginnings of withdrawal from Iraq, to occur this year, are already planned…
(i) expedite the transition of United States forces in Iraq to a limited presence and mission of training Iraqi security forces, providing logistic support of Iraqi security forces, protecting United States infrastructure and personnel, and participating in targeted counterterrorism activities;
(ii) after consultation with the Government of Iraq, begin the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq this year; and
(iii) submit to Congress a plan by the end of 2006 with estimated dates for the continued phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq, with the understanding that unexpected contingencies may arise;
(2) during and after the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq, the United States will need to sustain a nonmilitary effort to actively support reconstruction, governance, and a durable political solution in Iraq; and
(3) the President should carefully assess the impact that ongoing United States military operations in Iraq are having on the capability of the United States Government to conduct an effective counterterrorism campaign to defeat the broader global terrorist networks that threaten the United States.
The subject of future troop levels is certain to be an important part of President George W. Bush’s two-day war cabinet meeting, which will start Monday at Camp David in Maryland. Senior U.S. commanders in Iraq will join the meeting by a video link.So suppose the President brings home 15,000 troops by Christmas and announces tentative plans to withdraw more troops after that. That meets conditions spelled out in the Reed-Levin amendment; how then has the amendment altered the US war plan?
In preparation, military planners in Iraq and at the Pentagon have been refining troop-rotation proposals that, in the best case, would reduce levels to between 110,000 to 120,000 troops by the end of December, from current levels of about 130,000, administration and military officials said.
Most Republicans, rightly, voted against this proposal because it would have made American policy look weaker than it actually is. Passage of the amendment would have created a perception that any forthcoming withdrawal of American troops from Iraq was the result of American division and inconstancy and not of the consideration of the facts on the ground.
Forcing a vote on this kind of resolution shows that the Democrats do not understand how critical avoiding an unnecessary perception of weakness is to a deterrence-based defense policy. There is no advantage in focusing on low-substance but high-profile atmospherics that make an existing policy look weaker than it is. And it is neither good military strategy (because it boosts enemy morale) nor good political strategy (because it reduces the room that domestic hawks have to compromise) to make considered political/military decisions look like purely military retreats.