April 30, 2007

April 30, 2007 | Commentary on Middle East

Congress & Iraq: Declaring Defeat

Early this week, Congress will finally deliver on the president's request for emergency war spending for Iraq and Afghanistan - after more than 80 days (yes, 80 days) of needless dithering with our national security.

But the supplemental spending bill is not only plump with $20 billion in "pork" projects (support to salmon fisheries, beet farmers, etc.), it also includes a completely arbitrary timetable for surrender in...er, I mean, withdrawal from Iraq.

Sure, Congress has the constitutional power to declare "war," but since when does it have the right to declare "defeat"?

The lawmakers' effort to micromanage the Iraq war is nothing less than shameful - a cheap stunt to score political points. It's much more about the elections in 2008 than our national security in 2007.

The president will rightly veto the measure. But mere passage of this bill has already done significant damage.

Start with our fighting men and women. The ones in Iraq can't be encouraged by the impression that Congress doesn't feel their continued efforts are worthwhile.

And what about our warriors in Afghanistan? Should they be willing to put it all on the line against the Taliban and al Qaeda while waiting for a congressional call for their withdrawal as well?

Even more unbelievable is that Congress went forward with the bill after calling for a new strategy - when we've barely begun to implement just that.

Yes, the "surge" - as well as a new U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, plus dramatic shifts in our approach - was just announced earlier this year. But just over half of the troops envisioned for the surge have arrived in Iraq so far - and the last won't even be in place till at least mid-June. We're just getting started.

Wait a minute, you say: What about all those recent deadly bombings? The bad news is real - but those attacks are mostly the evil handiwork of al Qaeda and foreign jihadists (80 to 90 percent of suicide bombers are non-Iraqi). Osama's henchmen are still intent on fomenting a sectarian civil war - and hastening a U.S. retreat by influencing politics back here. Congress' action must leave them pumped.

What of our Iraqi partners? Congress' vote of "confidence" has to make them feel like no good deed goes unpunished.

At our urging, the Iraqi government is moving a wealth-sharing bill to portion out Iraq's oil riches to the disaffected Sunni community, as well as a "de-deBaathification" bill to bring former regime members - again, mostly Sunni - back into politics, society, government and the workforce, a shift that can help bring a peaceful end to the insurgency.

And, according to Petraeus, sectarian violence is down by two-thirds since January. Sunni tribes in Anbar and Diyala have switched sides and are now fighting al Qaeda and foreign extremists - an enemy intent on attacking us here at home.

Congress' call for retreat threatens all these gains. If the Iraqis feel like it's just a matter of time before America bails out on them, why keep dealing with us? It might make more sense to them to just sign on with the Iranians or Syrians now . . .

Which brings up the bill's effect on the region: Iran and Syria must be salivating at the idea of America's retreating from the Middle East with its tail between its legs. Afghanistan, meanwhile, has to contemplate the grim prospect of being abandoned next.

Plus, our national/military intelligence services judge that al Qaeda sees its struggle in Iraq as the most important effort in its global jihad - not Afghanistan, as some in Congress seem to think. Doesn't defeating al Qaeda mean anything anymore?

Congress' "Run away!" resolution heartens troublemakers around the word - in North Korea and Venezuela, as well as belligerent or ambitious factions in China and Russia. Our friends and allies, meanwhile, have to wonder if America can still be counted on.

Some in Congress are in a "Let's cut our losses now" sort of mentality. But the war in Iraq is about a lot more than just Iraq. It's about America's power and influence in the world - indeed, our future.

What happens in Washington - even something as mundane as a nonbinding congressional resolution - reverberates across the globe. It's time we fully recognize that.

It's Congress' duty to do what's right for this country, not just do what's expedient or politically popular. To put America first - not party politics - is what we should demand from our elected representatives.

Hopefully, they'll keep that in mind when they send the president the next bill - one that will fund the troops, demonstrate our resolve, deter potential foes and defeat our enemies.

Peter Brookes is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation and the author of "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Middle East

First appeared in The New York Post