- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When the Senate resumes debate later this week on the defense authorization bill, one of the first issues on the agenda will be an amendment by Sen. Jim Webb that would effectively cripple the troop surge in Iraq — even as it is demonstrating real success. The real goal of this legislation is to embarrass President Bush and score propaganda points with the antiwar crowd. But it would be a mistake to gloss over the destructive nature of what Mr. Webb’s amendment would do to the military and the National Guard.

Mr. Webb’s amendment would bar the deployment of troops to Iraq or Afghanistan unless they have spent at least as much time at home as deployed overseas. It also would tie the hands of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, making it impossible to move troops to the battlefield in a timely manner. Mr. Webb, a Democrat, may perhaps have the 60 votes necessary to defeat a Republican-led filibuster of the amendment. It is doubtful, however, that the Democrats would be able to muster the two-thirds majorities necessary to override a presidential veto of the defense authorization.

Mr. Gates — who is no fire-breathing partisan — outlined the dangerous consequences of the Webb amendment at a press conference on Friday: “We would have to look at extending already deployed units beyond their scheduled rotation. We would have to accept gaps in capability as units that rotate home aren’t replaced right away.”

These gaps, he said, could last for weeks at a time. Moreover, the Pentagon would be forced to examine whether to increase the use of units “that are either minimally or not normally trained for a particular mission — for example, putting organizations and units that are artillery in military police roles or something like that.” The effect of all this would be to “degrade combat readiness,” Mr. Gates said. “We would probably have to resort to cobbling together new units from other disparate units or unassigned individuals.” The military would also have to consider increasing deployments of National Guard and Reserve units due to the tighter constraints being placed on the active-duty force. The cumulative effect would be to “increase the risk to our men and women in uniform” overseas, Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Webb, a former Navy secretary and Marine combat veteran, says his legislation would grant the president the authority to waive the onerous provisions of the legislation. But the reality is that exercising such waiver authority creates delay in moving troops, and that delay by its very nature creates added risk to men and women in uniform. One could bet that every time the president attempted to exercise this authority, he would be attacked by congressional showboaters for his supposed callousness to the troops. It would be difficult to imagine a more harmful, destructive approach than that taken by the junior senator from Virginia.

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