- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

“I don’t want to push the Maliki government by congressional actions that will empower the terrorists. That’s the difference between me and our Democratic friends.” — Sen. Lindsey Graham Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has cut through the preening and pontificating on Capitol Hill to succinctly describe the differences between President Bush and the Democrats on Iraq. The question is whether Congress will give the U.S. military the resources to do the job against the jihadists, or merely score cheap points against the elected Iraqi government. This appears to be what Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who appeared with Mr. Graham, has set out to do.

Reversing errors made during de-Ba’athification and coming up with a plan to share oil revenues are desirable things. But they are clearly secondary to the number one imperative: security for millions of innocent Iraqis who are being preyed on by terrorists and other criminal thugs. Troop reinforcements have arrived, and there are hopeful signs. Some areas of Baghdad appear to be less dangerous; the Iraqi Army is doing a better job; and Sunni militias in Anbar province are turning against al Qaeda. But for now, the 150,000 U.S. combat troops in Iraq are engaged in a difficult struggle to maintain stability. Although the Iraqis have made some important strides on the security front, they are nowhere near able to take over the job from the coalition, nor will they be able to do that soon.

By pushing to weaken U.S. combat forces to ineffectiveness by next year, the Iraq war-funding bills passed by the House and Senate on largely party-line votes send plain messages to Tehran, al Qaeda and the other jihadists seeking to drive the United States out of the Middle East: Hold out for another 16 months or so, and Iraq will be yours. The Senate-passed bill, rammed through by Majority Leader Harry Reid, would begin withdrawing U.S. troops within 18 weeks of passage, with a March 31, 2008 goal of ending combat operations in Iraq. The House bill pushed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi would set a firm deadline. By Aug. 31, 2008, all U.S. combat forces must be withdrawn from Iraq. Smaller-sized forces would in theory remain in Iraq to conduct military training for the Iraqis and to carry out “counterterrorism training and security operations.” This is unrealistic, and risks setting up a reprise of Saigon 1975, when the enemy overruns a collapsing government abandoned by the United States.

President Bush is determined to prevent that, and he rightly promises to veto legislation to enable the terrorists. On Wednesday the president will meet Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid at the White House to discuss the supplemental spending bills. For a time last week, the congressional leaders were reluctant to go to the White House because the president is not willing to discuss “compromise” with them. But Mrs. Pelosi was effectively needled by critics who said that if she could travel to Syria to talk to a dictator, President Bashar Assad, she ought to find time to go to the White House to discuss legislation for sending ammunition (and bandages) to American soldiers. So she and Mr. Reid grumpily agreed to meet with Mr. Bush, but insist they expect to use the occasion to push the president to see things their way.

When they do this and lecture us on how they “support the troops,” we trust that Mr. Bush will set the record straight. By refusing to enact a “clean” emergency funding measure, Congress has inexcusably delayed critical support for operations in Iraq. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has performed skillfully, and eight other congressional Republicans sent a letter to Mrs. Pelosi rebuking her failure to appoint conferees to work on the legislation. Mr. McConnell and his colleagues reminded the speaker that U.S. Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker has written that “without approval of the supplemental funds in April, we will be forced to take increasingly draconian measures which will impact Army readiness and impose hardships on our soldiers and their families.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates further emphasized the damaging effects of delay: “This kind of disruption to key programs will have a genuinely adverse effect on the readiness of the Army and the quality of life for soldiers and their families.”

Noting that the Senate returned from vacation last week, the Republican lawmakers asked Mrs. Pelosi to cancel the remainder of the House vacation to return to Washington and “work in good faith to pass a clean supplemental funding bull that the President can sign as soon as possible. Every day that we don’t fund our troops is a day their ability to fight this war is weakened.” Mrs. Pelosi ignored this. It’s her prerogative to do so, but she should spare the president and the American people the nonsense about how strongly Democrats “support the troops.”

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