- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

These are the sweltering days of August, when members of Congress flee the capital to escape its insufferable humidity, and when our wallets are momentarily safe from being picked by the nation’s spending class.

Lawmakers take the month off to hear what’s on the minds of their constituents and to explain, criticize or promote what they’ve done here for the past six months. Their record, thus far, has been mixed: On one hand, there’s bankruptcy reform and a trade bill with Central America that will open up more markets for U.S. exports, and action to curb legal liability lawsuits. On the other hand, there are transportation and energy bills stuffed with tens of billions of dollars in pork-barrel spending and a swollen $400 billion deficit slashed by $100 billion by higher tax revenues due to economic growth.

Polls show 55 percent of voters disapprove of the job Congress has done (though that was before last week’s legislative rush to finish up before leaving town. It’s amazing how quickly Congress can get things done when a long vacation awaits).

President Bush has fled Washington, too, for vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, though it is never a real vacation. He still has a lot on his plate for the remainder of his second term: There are tax cuts to make permanent before they expire at the end of the decade; a deficit to cut in half; and Social Security reform, including higher-yielding retirement accounts, to continue to fight for this fall.

Iraq, of course, looms over everything. Despite the promise of a self-governing nation, whose leaders are expected to have a constitution — drafted by Iraqis — later this month, there is a continued noticeable increase in the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed in this war with the insurgents.

A great deal depends on the resolve and bravery of the Iraqi people, who have endured most of the terrorist attacks. Yet, despite mounting casualties, they still sign up for the Iraqi army and other security forces.

But there are troubling signs. Clearly the insurgency is not weaker than a year ago, but neither is it closer to preventing Iraq’s democratic movement from achieving its goals.

Terrorists have killed Iraqi government officials, Iraqi police and soldiers, clerics, ambassadors and thousands of civilian men, women and children. But it has not stopped the democratic movement. I don’t believe a constitution won’t be finished, voted on and ratified. And I can’t fathom how the insurgency will stop elections for a permanent government, which I predict will be as successful as the interim assembly elections.

The administration recently raised the hope U.S. troops could begin coming home by next spring if the Iraqi political process stays on track, and, most importantly, if Iraq’s armed forces can assume responsibility for its internal security. They are nowhere near that point, and the exit signals from the Pentagon seem disturbingly ill-timed.

What signal does talk of drawing down our forces send to al Qaeda insurgents? That they may be winning and must step up their attacks. What signal does it send the Iraqi people? That we are ready to begin pulling out early next year before the Iraqi army is fully prepared to take over.

Sending overt signals to the enemy of even a partial withdrawal in the months to come violates a fundamental rule of war and Mr. Bush’s own admonition that we will stay until the job is done. The terrorists must know it will get tougher for them, much tougher. We don’t want them to think if they wait us out they will have a better chance of bigger victories.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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