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Friday, July 13, 2007


The House vote on "withdrawal"

[Updated; see below]

I wrote that the House vote yesterday in favor of "withdrawal" was significant, if only in a symbolic sense. I still think so. But the text of the bill is now online, so one can now judge how much it would be significant in a real sense, even assuming that the Senate passed the same bill and the Congress overrode the President's veto.

The main "action" in the bill is this:

The Secretary of Defense shall commence the reduction of the number of Armed Forces in Iraq beginning not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and shall complete the reduction and transition to a limited presence of the Armed Forces in Iraq by not later than April 1, 2008.
Unfortunately, "a limited presence" is nowhere defined. However, it can be inferred from the next section, which discusses reporting requirements by the President:
(3) As part of the justification required by paragraph (2), the President shall, at a minimum, address whether it is necessary for the Armed Forces to carry out the following missions:
(A) Protecting United States diplomatic facilities and United States citizens, including members of the Armed Forces who are engaged in carrying out other missions.
(B) Serving in roles consistent with customary diplomatic positions.
(C) Engaging in actions to disrupt and eliminate al-Qaeda and its affiliated organizations in Iraq.
(D) Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces.
The thing that's most interesting is C. Because, although Congress isn't ready to call for the U.S. to stop training Iraqi forces, nor to cease protecting U.S. diplomatic facilities (although actually I believe that function is pretty much being conducted by mercenaries even today), this bill has been described as a withdrawal of all "combat forces." But point C makes clear it's nothing of the sort, because the Bush Administration describes all of its offensive (accent on either the first or second syllable, take your pick) actions as part of an attempt to "disrupt and eliminate al-Qaeda." So it seems clear that, the bit about "limited presence" notwithstanding, nothing in this bill requires the withdrawal of a single American from Iraq.

But it is still significant. :-)

Update: To show how much this is all about politics and posturing, however, consider the latest headline: "New GOP bill challenges Bush Iraq policy." And how does it do that?

It would require Bush to submit by Oct. 16 a plan to "transition U.S. combat forces from policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" to a narrow set of missions: protecting Iraqi borders, targeting terrorists, protecting U.S. assets and training Iraqi forces.
But (see above), that's precisely the "narrow set of missions" that the bill that just passed the House envisions. And yet:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid balked at the proposal because it would not require Bush to implement the strategy. He said he prefers legislation the Senate will vote on next week that would order combat troops to be out of Iraq by next spring.
Well, I haven't looked at the language of the Senate bill, but if it mirrors the House language, as I expect it does, it does no such thing.

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