As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports measures to set a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq, she likes to repeat this quote by Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus: "There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq."
Pelosi ignores the rest -- indeed, the thrust -- of Petraeus' message. While the general is the first to acknowledge that Iraqis must come together to craft a long-term political solution to their country's divisions, he understands that there will be no political solution as long as Iraqi civilians live in fear for their very lives and do not believe their government will protect them.
Or, as the December 2006 military counterinsurgency manual, which Petraeus co-wrote, so deftly put it, "In the eyes of some, a government that cannot protect its people forfeits the right to rule." That means: A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops will lead Iraq's government to collapse.
What is the Bush administration's plan? Petraeus has a political and tactical plan to undermine Iraq's insurgents. He understands how their need for secrecy, internal divisions, inconsistencies in their message and their need to carry momentum can be used against them. On a new political front, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has supported U.S. incursions in Shiite strongholds, and is working on de-Baathification and oil-revenue sharing. As the COIN manual says: "A COIN (counterinsurgency) effort cannot achieve lasting success without the HN (host nation) government achieving legitimacy."
But first, there has to be a military plan that gives the country the breathing room to repair.
Now, to the political counterinsurgency growing in the Congress. Two weeks ago, the Senate rejected a measure by a 48-to-50 vote to draft a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. But on Friday, the House passed a pork-laden supplemental spending bill that calls for an end to combat operations in Iraq by September 2008. Then this week, the Senate voted 50 to 48 for a measure that sets a goal for President Bush to withdraw most U.S. troops by March 2008.
Perhaps momentum is growing because there is little discussion about what will happen in Iraq if Democrats pressure Bush to withdraw U.S. troops on their schedule. Will Iraq collapse? Will Iraq become a Shiite-led nation? Will Iran move in? Will Iraq become a haven for terrorist groups?
At press conferences, reporters ask procedural questions about how the Democrats will respond to a likely Bush veto, but they do not ask about what the consequences will be -- for Iraq or for America -- should the Democrats get their way.
What will happen to Iraq? I asked Pelosi's office. Spokesman Drew Hammill answered that Pelosi wants to see Iraq change its constitution and its ways. "What we hope is, that with these series of things, we don't have to worry about that. We hope that Iraq will become a peaceful democratic country."
When I asked the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein what she believed would happen in Iraq, should the Senate measure prevail, her office e-mailed this quote: "Iraq is in chaos today. By setting a goal for redeployment, the Democratic plan says to the Iraqi government that you've got to make the political accommodations necessary. This, in my view, is the best chance for stability in Iraq." Call the Democratic plan "cross your fingers."
Because these Democrats didn't have much of an answer about what will happen if they get their way, I asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., what do they tell him they think will happen under their deadlines? "Nothing, nothing, nothing," McCain answered. The Dems won't or can't cut off the funding, but "this way they can say they want to withdraw, but they don't have the responsibility."
At least McCain will predict what these timetables will do. The Senate March 2008 withdrawal plan, he said this week, "does not incentivize the government of Iraq to make tough decisions on reconciliation -- it sets the stage for the government collapse. The arbitrary deadline informs our enemies when they need no longer fear American military power. It signals to the population that their best bet for security really does rest in the hands of militias, rather than the government. It demonstrates to the government that they cannot rely on us -- after all, we are pulling out regardless of the situation or consequences. And it tells the terrorists that they -- not we -- will prevail."