March 22, 2007

March 22, 2007 | Commentary on

Iraq's future

Let's get this straight. According to the various attempts by congressional Democrats to force President Bush to bring home the troops, the United States should withdraw from Iraq if the Maliki government fails to meet certain benchmarks reducing violence, raising troop numbers and making progress toward a political solution. That is, if the Iraqi government is not in a condition fit to govern the country, then we will pull out. On the other hand, if the Iraqi government lives up to our demands, functioning as it should, we will stay? Somewhere, somehow, this all got turned upside down.

Tomorrow, it is the turn of House Democrat's to have another go at tying the president's hands. After last week's defeat for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill to constrain Mr. Bush's ability to deploy troops to Iraq, for which he would not get more than 48 votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thinks she has a better strategy. Mr. Reid's problem is that Blue Dog Democrats are starting to have cold feet, concerned about looking weak on defense and obstructionist toward a wartime president.

To avoid a similar problem in the House, the leadership has tied some domestic spending to the bill's passage to sweeten the pot and persuade increasingly reluctant Democrats to vote for it.

Like all other supplemental bills, it is a Christmas tree. While Mr. Bush asked for $100 billion for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as $3 billion in disaster relief, some $20 billion in other spending has found its way into the package. Thus, the House Emergency War Spending bill includes, among other things, $74 million for peanut storage, $48 million for the Farm Service Agency and $35 million for NASA. If someone in the House leadership could explain what peanut storage has to do with the future of Iraq, it would be very helpful.

Meanwhile, funding for the troops is tied to a specific schedule for their withdrawal, mandating that they begin coming home by the end of this year, if progress is not made, and all troops would have to come home next year (with very limited exceptions). The bill would also limit how funds can be used, denying generals in the field the power to make decisions of their own.

The president has been right to protest vociferously against this tactic and has threatened a veto. "The purpose of this legislation should be to give our troops in the front lines the resources, funds, and equipment they need to fight our enemies. Unfortunately, some in Congress are using this bill as an opportunity to micromanage our military commanders, force a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and spend billions on domestic projects that have nothing to do with the war on terror," Mr. Bush fumed.

The congressional gamble comes at a time when the Petraeus plan is showing signs of having a positive impact in Iraq, undercutting the best chance for success we have seen in a long while. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

As a consequence of the troop surge and new tactics, violence in Baghdad is down. Iraqi and American troops have captured more than 700 suspected Shi'ite extremists and captured masses of weapons. There are no safe havens for terrorists today, and operations go on throughout Baghdad, including the previously off-limits Sadr city. The surge is designed to protect Iraqi civilians and make Baghdad livable again. A sign that Iraqis are feeling more emboldened is that they are providing some 250 tips a week to the combined Iraqi and American forces, which are working side by side. And this progress is being made even before the bulk of the additional American troops are on the ground, which is expected in May.

The price of failure in Iraq will be high, let no one doubt it. A country in chaos could be a safe haven for terrorists. As my Heritage Foundation colleague Jim Phillips likes to put it, "a Talibanized Iraq would be like Afghanistanonsteroids." Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries, while Iraq is one of its wealthiest in oil resources. A hostile regime in Iraq sponsoring and protecting terrorists will be a huge problem for us and for the rest of the world.

What we might have instead -- if we manage to muster a little patience -- is an Iraqi government that is a friend of the United States and an ally in the war on terror. Now, which Iraq would you rather have?

Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Helle C. Dale Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First Appeared in the Washington Times