- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Every so often, we witness a debate that serves to illustrate what is at stake in the congressional debate over funding the war in Iraq. Such was the case on “Fox News Sunday,” where Sen. Lindsey Graham debated the issue with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin. The differences could hardly have been more striking.

Mr. Graham carefully articulated the foolhardiness of framing the issue as a matter of how best to put pressure on the elected Iraqi government. Mr. Levin, by contrast, made it sound as if the primary goal of our military campaign in Iraq is to start withdrawing troops in order to force the Maliki government to meet a checklist of political demands not to defeat jihadists seeking to destabilizethe country and establish a caliphate.

Mr. Levin said he hoped that Congress would send President Bush “a very strong bill which would say that we’re going to begin to reduce troops in four months as a way of telling the Iraqi leadership that the open-ended commitment is over, not just rhetorically, but, in fact to try to force them to take responsibility for their own country.”The senator questioned whether Mr. Bush was “serious” about “holding them to their political commitments,”adding that if Congress failed to override Mr. Bush’s veto of legislation emerging from a House-Senate conference, he hoped to send the White Houseanotherbill that uses “benchmarks” as “the second best way of putting pressure on the president to put pressure on Iraqis.”

By contrast, Mr. Graham madea number ofimportant points that are usually lost in congressional debate on the U.S. role in Iraq: that it is a major battleground in the larger war against jihadist terror and that abandoning Iraq in response to car bombings doesn’t simply send a message to the Iraqi government; it jeopardizes American interests in our larger national struggle against the Islamists.

During his most recent trip to Iraq, Mr. Graham visited Anbar province in western Iraq, and he noted some hopeful signs. “Sixteen of 21 tribal sheiks have now joined with the coalition forces and rejected al Qaeda,” he noted. “The sheiks made a call to join the police force. Seven hundred people had to be turned away” because so many people applied to join the force. Mr. Graham also noted the absurdity of the fact that a majority of the Senate, which voted 81-0 to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, appears determined to undermine him bymicromanaging the war.Gen. Petraeus “had a specific game plan in mind,” Mr. Graham noted.

Mr. Graham added: “Timetables, timelinesfor withdrawing troops, benchmarks that give your enemy a road mapof how to driveus out of Iraq are bad ideas. These are congressional micromanagement of the war that will have short- and long-term political effects.The president will veto this bill. He should veto it. And I do believe that timelines and deadlines undercut Petraeus. They empower the enemy and people start making political deals… If you want us out of Iraq, just cut off funding. Don’t bleed Gen. Petraeus dry and undercut him.”

This is the kind of blunt-spoken common sense that has been largely absent from the debate now taking place on Capitol Hill.

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