Tuesday, March 13, 2007

House Democrats had an opportunity last week to send an unambiguous message of strength and resolve to our troops in harm’s way in Iraq, to our allies and enemies around the world and to Americans here at home.

Instead, they used the occasion to announce a timetable for wholesale retreat, declare their intention to hand over command-and-control authority in Iraq to 535 commanders in chief on Capitol Hill and, already on a roll, float the bizarre idea to close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and import hundreds of the most insidious elements of the worldwide terrorist network to the United States to process like common criminals. Quite a week, I would say.

Tomorrow Democrats will attempt to follow up that performance by bringing their plan to committee for executing their slow-bleed strategy in Iraq. But what we understand of the product now is enough to tell me their plan would yield disastrous results.

Here’s what we know for sure: In the next few weeks, Democrats will bring an “emergency” funding measure to the House floor, weighed down with billions in nonemergency spending and loaded up with reams of rules and restrictions on how and when vital resources may be spent for our men and women in uniform.

Of course, those limitations will not apply to the $735 million included for health insurance programs or the $500 million for the wildfire suppression activities or, for that matter, the $400 million for energy assistance accounts.

But on issues relevant to war and peace — on matters of basic operational authority in Iraq — Democrats insist that bureaucratic reporting requirements for commanders on the ground be ratcheted up. But don’t worry: If Gen. David Petraeus crosses all his t’s and makes sure to initial every page, Democrats assure him that he may be allowed to conduct his mission until 2008. Of course, if the reports don’t pass bureaucratic muster, he may have to pack his forces up as early as June.

Does anyone think that demoting our military generals to administrative assistants represents our best chance to achieve our goals in the region? Does anyone believe our commanders in the field have at their disposal too much authority and too much flexibility to get the job done?

Of course, a plan to fail may be precisely what the “Out of Iraq” crowd hopes to achieve. In fact, it fits nicely within their larger strategy to certify defeat, assert congressional control over something Congress is ill-suited to handle, and execute a precipitous withdrawal of on-the-ground support — as early as three months from now, by their own accounts.

Only hours after proving how hard it is for their caucus to come up with a resolution on emergency military spending, House Democratic leaders want to micromanage an active military engagement being fought on an ever-shifting landscape of sand, soil and public opinion 6,000 miles from our shores. Or, just maybe, they don’t want anyone to win a war that some of them no longer want to fight.

This willingness to accept defeat unites Republicans and divides Democrats — both on Capitol Hill and around the country. But not only is their plan fundamentally wrong on its merits, it is exceedingly cynical in its design. After all, if Democrats thought this latest strategy represented the best way forward in Iraq, perhaps they wouldn’t have needed to attach the amount of pork they did; money that will be needed to influence their growing chorus of dissenters into supporting the final product.

Congress has an important role in debating the merits and execution of the Global War on Terror in general, and the conflict in Iraq in particular. But using the emergency funding package for our soldiers in uniform as a platform to attach operational strings and nonemergency spending doesn’t meet the standard of common sense — whether you’re trying to command an army unit, or win a war.

Roy Blunt of Missouri is the Republican whip in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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