- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yesterday, the Senate wisely defeated an amendment introduced by Democrat Carl Levin that outlined a timetable for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. At the same time, it passed a Republican resolution that called on the White House to be more regular in reporting progress in Iraq to Congress. While Mr. Levin’s provision would have proved disastrous for all the obvious reasons, it seems Congress is determined to engage the administration on a serious issue that doesn’t entirely reek of political opportunism.

The reality is that the amendment which did pass, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, is a reasonable, though fairly benign, resolution. It would require the White House to provide quarterly reports “to explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq.” The president should have the opportunity to routinely make the case for the war, which is something we’ve been arguing for all along. If done properly and respectfully — i.e., not in a highly charged partisan atmosphere — the White House should be able to counter the Democrats’ and the media’s negative spin by providing good news and specifics on the progress of the war against terror.

It was inevitable that politics would run up against policy, however. The amendment says that “2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq.” How this differs from what have been the administration’s goals since the war began, we can’t say. Apparently, according to Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, this is a declaration of American impatience. “[W]e really mean business, Iraqis, get on with it,” he said, which is a pretty big insult to the Americans, Iraqis and coalition forces who have sacrificed life and limb to do just that.

Rather, congressional Republicans are nervous about next year’s elections. As opposed to 2004, they don’t foresee loyalty to the president and the war as winning propositions. Yet they can’t very well follow the Democrats’ non-strategy of opposing a war they voted for. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, for example, was left sputtering Sunday when Fox News anchor Chris Wallace asked him to explain that very contradiction.

With this resolution, some Senate Republicans are hoping to distance themselves from critics of the war and the perception that the administration made mistakes. It’s a better strategy than the Democrats’, and Republicans could use it to their advantage during midterm elections next year.

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