May 3, 2007

May 3, 2007 | Commentary on Middle East

Can This Washington Be Saved? Can This War? After the veto.

On Tuesday night, President Bush vetoed the supplemental war-funding bill. National Review Online asked a group of experts, who include a former senator, a former Cabinet secretary, an Iraq-war vet, a relative of an American murdered on September 11, 2001, a historian, and policy experts: How big a deal was the president's veto Tuesday night? Can this Washington be saved? Can this war?

Jim Talent

On Tuesday, President Bush used his veto power for the second time during his presidency on the Democrats $124 billion Iraq supplemental appropriations bill that included a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

The president was right, for at least four reasons laid out by my colleague at the Heritage Foundation, James Carafano:

  • Success is an option;
  • There is a war to be won;
  • Walking away will not end the war;
  • Polls do not make Americans safer.

I begrudge no one their dissatisfaction with the situation in Iraq, and least of all the Left, which is uncomfortable with the use of American power even when the exercise goes smoothly. But the one worse thing than what we have gone through in Iraq would be if we go through it for nothing.

The administration is now using classic anti-insurgency tactics, accompanied by the "surge" in troops that is clearly having a positive impact on the ground. Whether it will be enough to make the mission a success remains to be seen. But the consequences of defeat - chaos in Iraq, or domination by Iran - are so serious that we should not abandon the mission as long as there is a plausible chance of success; and given that it would be wrong to walk away, it would clearly be wrong to advertise a timetable for walking away. Why give the enemy notice of exactly how long they have to continue fighting in order to win?

The war in Iraq has now become a race: Will the new tactics achieve victory on the ground before the Democratic Left achieves surrender? The administration needs to establish clear metrics for success in Iraq and then rediscover the ability to communicate effectively as those metrics are achieved; otherwise, it is quite likely that the efforts of our men and women on the ground will end up going for naught.

Congress and the president also find themselves at a crossroad where decisions must be made about the future funding of our nation's defense budget. Will they make the necessary investment in our military to ensure the safety of the United States, not just now, but in the future when we might face such challenges as the rising power of China or a rogue missile attack? Those who say they support a strong military should openly support the Heritage Foundation's "4 Percent for Freedom" solution - a plan that calls for spending a minimum of 4 percent of the GDP on the regular defense budget.

President Bush made the correct decision when he vetoed the supplemental funding bill yesterday. Now it is time for him to step up and support the adequate funding of our military.

Jim Talent is a distinguished fellow in military affairs at the Heritage Foundation. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-2001) and the U.S. Senate (2002-2007). He was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and, for four years, chairman of the committee's Seapower Committee.

About the Author

Jim Talent Distinguished Fellow
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

Related Issues: Middle East

First appeared in the National Review Online