Anyone who reads major newspapers or watches TV news would naturally assume that on Thursday, July 2nd, the House of Representatives took a fateful vote to end the Iraq War and to withdraw US troops.
As a matter of fact, the House voted for nothing of the kind, and the public distortions by both parties and all major media demonstrate the shameful gamesmanship on all sides when it comes to Iraq policy.
USA TODAY, the nation’s top circulation newspaper, featured a front page headline that declared “House Votes for Pullout by April” – conveying the impression that the Democrats succeeded, in a party line 223-201 vote, in demanding that all American forces come home by next spring. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave its readers a similar impression, with its front page headline: “HOUSE DEFIES BUSH, OKs EXIT.” Even the New York Times covered the story under the grossly inaccurate summary: A FIRM BUSH TELLS CONGRES NOT TO DICTATE POLICY ON WAR: House Responds by Voting to Withdraw Combat Troops From Iraq by April 1st.”
Reading the articles that accompanied these headlines, they made almost no reference to the actual text of the resolution the House had just approved. The stories—like reports on television – suggested that the edgy debate had been all about “bringing the troops home,” “withdrawal from Iraq,” and “bringing this tragic war, finally, to an end.”
In truth, the House didn’t approve withdrawal, a deadline for US troops to come home, or in any sense mandate an end to the war. The resolution they considered (H.R. 2956) actually bore the heading “Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act.” (Italics added). The official summary of this legislation described “An Act to require the Secretary of Defense to commence the reduction of the number of United States Armed Forces in Iraq to a limited presence by April 1, 2008, and for other purposes.” (Italics added).
In other words, the House voted for troop reduction, not troop withdrawal.
But even so savvy a Washington insider as Dick Morris, Fox News contributor and former political consultant to President Clinton, didn’t know what the resolution actually said. When he talked with me on my radio show on Friday and I read him the actual text of the House resolution, he seemed genuinely shocked by its contents.
The operative language in the bill orders the Secretary of Defense to “commence the reduction of the number of Armed Forces in Iraq beginning not later than 120 days after the date of 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.”
The resolution says nothing about how large the reduction should be, or makes the slightest attempt to define what is meant by the “limited presence” expected for the long term in Iraq..
In fact, Section 4, subsection 2, calls on the President to provide “a justification of the minimum force levels required to protect United States national security interests in Iraq after April 1, 2008” – a statement which unmistakably anticipates a continued presence in the country (of unspecified scope and dimension) after the purported deadline for “withdrawal.”
Contrary to the New York Times headline and support, the resolution never mentions the withdrawal of “Combat Troops from Iraq by April 1.In fact, the resolution explicitly anticipates that US forces will indefinitely involve themselves in “engaging in actions to disrupt and eliminate al-Qaeda and its affiliated organizations in Iraq.” If this isn’t combat, what is it? The same passage (Section 4, Subsection 3) also acknowledges that our soldiers will stay in country for the sake of “protecting United States diplomatic facilities and United States citizens” and “training and equipping members of the Iraq Security Forces.”
Even Democratic military and foreign policy experts agree that accomplishing these purposes will require a substantial U.S. force. Dick Morris said that his sources in the Clinton campaign suggest that it’s realistic to expect the long-term presence in Iraq of at least 75,000 U.S. troops – about half our current contingent.
In other words, when Democrats talk about “ending the war” or “bringing the boys back home” they are lying in order to mollify their activist, anti-war base. The resolution that the party’s leadership crafted provides for a semi-permanent Iraq presence, not a quick end to the war. The Cindy Sheehan/Michael Moore “Peace” wing of the party would feel furious and betrayed if the media told them the truth about what the “anti-war resolution” actually contained.
Meanwhile, the GOP hasn’t pointed out the Democratic distortions because they hope to associate their opponents with the irresponsible position of “immediate withdrawal” and “abject surrender.” The Democrats won’t talk about how moderate and cautious their resolution really is because they don’t want to upset or disappoint their impatient, “impeach Bush” supporters. The Republicans won’t tell the truth because they don’t want to show that their rivals have actually suggested an alternate in strategy, not an end to the ongoing US commitment or the abrupt abandonment of our Iraqi allies.
At the same time, the press failed to do its job because the public seems to relish a bitter grudge match between advocates of “bring ‘em home” and defenders of “stay the course.” The real debate concerns redeployment, not withdrawal; a shift in strategy, not a total reorientation in policy. In other words, the fight on Capitol Hill hardly qualifies as the desperate, fateful clash-of-worldviews battle that major media love to describe in such breathless (and dishonest) tones.
The GOP still possesses the trump-card argument: that when it comes to these adjustments involving our mission in Iraq, the nation should place more trust in General Petraeus than in General Pelosi (or General Reid, for that matter).
President Bush has displayed admirable courage and clarity in defending this essential principle of giving military control to the military leadership, not to hack politicians of either party addicted to pandering and grandstanding.
It will only strengthen his case – and further highlight Democratic hypocrisy – if he highlights the true content of the meaningless and timid House Resolution, rather than going along with the political and media charade suggesting that we’re actually debating an end to a necessary war.