- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2007

Was that George W. Bush or the shade of Harry S. Truman speaking immediately after the House of Representatives and Senate voted to order U.S. combat troops out of Iraq? They would have until September of next year to leave. The president’s response: Hell, no.

Well, not exactly. That would have been entirely too Trumanesque. Instead, Mr. Bush phrased his rejection of this ultimatum from Congress more tactfully, but only slightly so: “These Democrats believe that the longer they can delay funding for our troops, the more likely they are to force me to accept restrictions on our commanders, an artificial timetable for withdrawal, and their pet spending projects. This is not going to happen.”

Let’s hope not. For what would be the effect of the commander in chief’s accepting a congressional order to withdraw American troops from Iraq by a given date? Here is John McCain, senator from Arizona and presidential hopeful, explaining why he and others were trying to strip the bill of this provision before the Senate vote:

“We’re not prepared to tell the enemy, ‘Hang on, we’ll give you a date when we’re leaving.’ ” That seems the essence of the “strategy” proposed by the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and now espoused by its Democratic majority. Mr. McCain was joined in his effort to protect the commander in chief’s authority by senators like South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, who may be the last Truman Democrat in the U.S. Senate. Talk about an endangered species.

Let us now praise the 14 Democratic members of Congress who refused to go along with their party’s plan to cut off the troops’ water by September 2008. They included Texas’ outspoken Sam Johnson. He opposed not only setting this arbitrary deadline for withdrawal, but also the more than $20 billion in pork included in what was supposed to have been an emergency appropriation for the military.

The bill had been larded with subsidies for special interests, among them spinach growers, shrimp fishermen and the peanut industry. To quote Mr. Johnson’s good question: “What does throwing money at Bubba Gump, Popeye the Sailor Man and Mr. Peanut have to do with winning a war? Nothing.” Ah, but it had everything to do with attracting votes for Gen. Pelosi’s brilliant military strategy.

Some of the bill’s promoters claimed they’re actually supporting the troops in Iraq by calling for their withdrawal. But surely our enemies would only be emboldened by the knowledge that, come September 2008, they would no longer have to worry about American combat troops making the crucial difference in this struggle.

The bill’s passage by the House coincided with some good news out of Iraq. Early reports from Baghdad — very early reports — indicate Gen. David Petraeus’ new, seize-and-hold strategy, a k a ‘The Surge’, is working. The Shia militia is clearing out of Baghdad as American troops pour in, which figures. Thugs have a way of disappearing when a beat is flooded with cops. Another good sign: In the most troublesome of Iraq’s provinces, Anbar, the local sheiks are finally uniting against al Qaeda’s assassins, who have spent years trying to displace them.

As with any slow-but-steady strategy in a war, what’s most required for success is patience. Also endurance. And unstinting support for the troops, which is just what this Congress may lack. At this point it seems to be resolved only to be unresolved.

Bing West is the Atlantic Monthly correspondent in Iraq, and this is what he had to say about congressional moves to set a deadline for American withdrawal:

“Look, let me put it this way. I fought in Vietnam. I was with a combined-action platoon that spent 45 days in a Vietnamese village. I think the Congress has to be awfully, awfully careful and not so conceited about itself. It seems to be looking at everything as though it is a political game without really asking what’s the effect on the morale over time. I mean, can you imagine, if you’re a squad leader or platoon commander, and you are beginning to do well in your area — and that’s happening — and you see these people debating something that seems to you to be kind of nutty and has nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, and yet they are saying things like, ‘We are going to pull you out a year from now.’

“I think we have to be awfully careful,” Mr. West added, that “we don’t get into a situation the way we did in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, where the troops looked over their shoulder and saw nobody behind them. So there is a burden on the Congress to be very judicious in what it does. And that’s a burden that Congress should take very, very carefully.”

Instead, Congress is sounding retreat. And not all this talk about supporting the troops by calling for their withdrawal will fool the enemy. It shouldn’t fool the American people, either.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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