August 7, 2007
By Baker Spring
Not completing work on the defense authorization bill this year
would set a dangerous precedent. Congress has passed an annual
defense authorization bill every year since 1961. This legislation
is crucial because it sets troop levels, provides pay, promotion,
retirement and other benefits for service members and their
families. If the latest bill stalls, forget about providing pay
raises to the troops, for example, or growing America's ground
forces this year to relieve the strain on soldiers serving multiple
To understand why anti-war senators would engage in such a risky
strategy, consider again the infamous all-night debate over the
withdrawal amendment to the defense authorization bill, offered by
Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). It wasn't what
it seemed. The all-night session was rooted in a tactical
disagreement between war opponents in the Senate and their hardcore
anti-war constituents. Understanding this internal spat is
important, because the implications for our military could be
Yes, Senate war opponents and their anti-war constituents share
a political goal. A defeat in Iraq, they believe, would improve
their electoral ambitions. Their differences have been over
Hardcore war opponents outside the Senate believe that President
Bush can be tagged with losing the war by any means necessary.
Legislatively, they prefer that Congress simply do nothing. They
wanted Congress to withhold the supplemental defense appropriations
bill earlier this year -- which was enacted over their objections
-- and they want the Senate to abandon the current defense
The fact that doing nothing means inflicting irreparable damage
on the military apparently doesn't matter to this group. The
senators, understandably, have been more wary of this do-nothing
approach, which carries the risk that most American voters would
fault them, and not President Bush, for a failed war in Iraq.
Further, the senators didn't want to be seen as undermining the
The more cautious approach of Senate leaders prevailed in both
the House and Senate earlier this year during consideration of the
defense supplemental appropriations bill, which was enacted
following a veto by President Bush. Anti-war constituents, however,
were furious. So the anti-war senators have been attempting, in the
latest funding battle, to soothe their anti-war constituents --
This is what the all-night Senate session was about. It was a
hollow attempt by anti-war senators to demonstrate to their
anti-war constituents how committed they are to withdrawing U.S.
forces from Iraq. Needless to say, the anti-war constituents didn't
buy it. Not coincidentally, pollsters have lately been reporting
very low approval ratings for Congress -- the lowest, in fact, ever
recorded by Zogby.
It now seems that the anti-war senators are buckling to the
demands of their anti-war constituents. They're willing to take the
do-nothing route and leave the defense authorization bill high and
dry. In all likelihood, therefore, they also will seek to shelve
the equally essential fiscal year 2008 defense appropriations bill
later this year.
So much for the lip service we've heard about opposing the war
but "supporting the troops."
Clearly, it's time for more level-headed lawmakers to go into
action. Senators who support the military, such as Senate Armed
Services Committee ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.),
should continue to demand, at every opportunity, that the Senate
returns to considering the defense authorization bill. A similar
effort likely will be necessary to assure consideration of the
upcoming defense appropriations bill.
Anti-war senators should realize that their effort to have it
both ways has failed. They need to have the courage to stand up to
their anti-war constituents -- and stop engaging in efforts that
could spell defeat in Iraq.
is the F.M. Kirby fellow in national security policy at The
First appeared on Fox News
Critics of the war in Iraq are usually quick to voice support for the troops -- and lawmakers in Washington are no exception. So why are war opponents in the Senate threatening to shelve this year’s defense authorization bill? As anti-troop actions go, pulling the plug on necessary legislation for our soldiers is hard to top.
F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
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