Dems Shift Gears On Iraq

March 5th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Dems Shift Gears On Iraq

The Hill
March 5, 2008
Pg. 1
By Mike Soraghan
Congressional Democrats searching for a message that will resonate on the Iraq war are preparing an argument that getting troops out of the conflict is the only way to rebuild a spent military.
It’s a less ambitious argument than the “Out-of-Iraq now” proposals put forward last year, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other top Democrats believe it will allow the party to criticize the war without being seen as criticizing those fighting it. It could also help Democrats to portray themselves as protecting the military and national security.
The Pentagon’s commanders have repeatedly testified that the Iraq war is straining the military, and Democrats say they can take that foundation and add the extra step of saying the strain is the reason to withdraw troops.
“This is about America’s security,” said Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.). “We have an Army that can’t deploy anywhere else in the world.”
Or, as a staffer put it, “You can’t rebuild an engine while you’re driving along at 60 miles per hour.”
A Democratic aide noted that numerous generals have complained that the Iraq war is stretching the military too thin. “Who can argue with that?” the aide said. “You’re not blaming the military for anything.”
The new angle on Iraq reflects sentiments among Democratic leaders that they became too focused on opposing Bush’s “surge” and then saw their push for withdrawal falter when the surge was viewed as a military success. At the same time, the new strategy is not necessarily in sync with other efforts on Iraq.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which overlaps with the Out-of-Iraq caucus, last week introduced legislation calling for withdrawal of troops within a year. Anti-war groups are trying to link the Iraq war to the economic slowdown in what they call an “Iraq/recession” campaign.
The Senate last week debated a plan to withdraw troops within 120 days, and Republicans seemed more eager to debate it than did Democrats. President Bush has backed off plans to draw troop levels down to pre-surge levels, with little public backlash.
Leadership aides say the exact legislative strategy for linking readiness to withdrawal hasn’t been developed as Democrats and their allies build their case. But Democrats will use the budget battle that begins this week to showcase their differences with President Bush on veterans’ healthcare and military readiness.
Another potential legislative vehicle is a military readiness resolution sponsored by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), both Armed Services subcommittee chairmen. The resolution lists a host of shortfalls in the armed services and states, “Congress should restore and maintain the ground forces.”
The resolution, which makes little mention of Iraq, has been repeatedly discussed at the ad hoc Iraq strategy task force run by House Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.).
Abercrombie said that in caucus meetings the resolution has been discussed as “the central focus of our approach on Iraq.”
Republicans say that they’re equally committed to making sure the military has what it needs, but that the military doesn’t need to withdraw from Iraq to have those needs met.
“House Democrats’ Iraq policy is like a broken Magic 8-Ball,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “No matter what question you ask, the answer is always ‘Retreat.’ ”
The issue of “military readiness” is not new. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) complained that “the Army is broken” when he came out against the war in 2005.
To House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), restoring readiness is a somber, pre-eminent duty.
The Democratic presidential candidates have also sounded off on the theme.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) hit the issue hard a year ago in a sit-down session with the Center for American Progress. Even then, she was commenting on criticism from the 2000 presidential campaign from then-candidate and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who charged that her husband, President Bill Clinton, had diminished the readiness of the military.
“It wasn’t true when he said it, but it sure is true now. [Bush] has in a very deliberative way created conditions that are straining our military, underfunding it with respect to what actually gets to troops on the ground and what they get when they get home.”
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has touched on the issue as well. The foreign policy portion of his campaign website states, “As a result of a misguided war in Iraq, our forces are under pressure as never before,” then stresses his commitment to rebuilding the military.
With the economy and other issues burning the legislative oxygen on Capitol Hill, Iraq has been pushed to the back burner in recent weeks. But aides expect it to re-emerge later this month with the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and in early April, when the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, returns to Capitol Hill to testify about the war.
As Democrats prepare for that debate, the readiness issue has garnered renewed interest in the top ranks of Democratic leadership.
In the last few weeks, Pelosi has released three official statements designed to highlight the comments of generals who say the military is reaching a breaking point.
“Americans are rightly concerned about how much longer our nation must continue to sacrifice our security for the sake of an Iraqi government that is unwilling or unable to secure its own future,” Pelosi said late last month, responding to comments by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey that six years of war have left the Army “out of balance.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) compiled a list of examples of National Guard shortfalls in 16 states that hampered their ability to react to natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
Still, some Democrats worry that using readiness as an angle of attack on Iraq could inject partisanship into an issue where Republicans and Democrats, at least recently, have been trying to work together. Aides who’ve been trying to get Republicans to sign onto the Ortiz-Abercrombie legislation have reported reluctance among some GOP members.
The possibility worries Skelton.
“This is a national problem, and Iraq is a major cause, but readiness is not a political football,” Skelton said.

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