Thursday, August 16, 2007

On the Troop Withdrawal Bill

Recently, both Houses of Congress initiated legislation on the withdrawal of American troops in Iraq by March 2008. With the majority of representatives in the House and the Senate coming from the Democratic Party, it is expected that the legislation will pass, subject only to veto powers of the US President, as part of the system of checks and balances in government. Publicly, President George W. Bush berated the legislature for their obstinacy in opposing his administration’s policy in Iraq and had already threatened to truly exercise his executive powers and send the legislation to the dustbin of history. If he does veto the legislation, the Democrat-led majority in Congress will only have achieved a symbolic victory, as their numbers are not enough to overturn the expected veto of the proposed legislation. Predictably, the political conflict on the war in Iraq will only further escalate the political bickering of both branches of government and increasing the polarization of American society. On the other hand, the issue as to whether or not American troops must leave Iraq in the soonest possible time has been the subject of intense debates from all sides of the political spectrum and American society since the war in Iraq reached its fourth year last month, that the final outcome of the executive-legislative standoff is pivotal in tipping the balance of support for the continuing war in Iraq. In discussing the complex issues on the withdrawal bill, the paper shall examine newspaper editorials critique the broadsheets comments regarding the policy proposals to obtain an understanding of the political economic issues involved with regard to governmental economic policy in general, notwithstanding gaining a sense of the deep public opinion that has hounded this fiscal aspect of the war in Iraq.

The Contextual Backdrop – Iraq Enters its Fifth Year

The Washington Post editorial gave a balanced analysis of the past few years of American occupation in Iraq. While it criticized much the way the plans for reconstruction were executed, it still held optimistic views on how the United States can get out of the current impasse and struggle forth against growing international criticism for the war. Aside from this it as great that the editorial recognized not simply the failures of the American troops but also the marked contradictions between the Americans and the Iraqi people even prior to the invasion as it said that the United States is still paying the price for its betrayal of Shiites and Kurds during the Persian Gulf War against Iran, where the United States tacitly colluded with Saddam in the bloody war against the Islamists of Iran. More so, there is also a critical analysis that the failure of diplomacy is never a sufficient argument to start a war. It can be remembered that the March 2003 invasion seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to the failure of negotiations between Iraq and the international community. Yet, the United States government, despite international condemnation through the United Nations insisted on going ahead with the invasion. As a result, it proved very difficult for the United States to rally international support due to its strident attempt at unilateralism instead of consolidating and convincing the world on the legitimacy of the war. The discourse on the failure of second-guessing the Iraqi people is relevant as well because the violence of the past few years have shown that the forced transplantation of Western-style democracy in a country rife with tribal and clannish wars can never be feasible despite international support and American resources at all fronts. It perhaps seemed clear now how impossible it was to institute a democratic government in the context of the creation and reproduction of regional warlords with religious undertones. More so, the editorial also scathingly reviews the grand deception of the Bush administration when it presented its case to Congress and to the world, as up to now not a single weapon of mass destruction has been found. For all of these faults by the Bush administration, the editorial does not stand simply to oppose the war and demand the pullout of troops, as it recognizes how responsible the United States is for the current surge of violence in Iraq that it cannot simply turn its back and leave. It understands that calling for a US troop pullout per se will never solve the woes of the Iraqi people nor lessen US accountability. As such, it supports all the efforts by different interest groups from all sectors and sides of the political spectrum to continue securing Iraq while gradually diminishing US troops in Iraq.

The Troop Withdrawal Bill and Public Opinion

The San Jose Mercury News has been very straight forward in its analysis of the conflict between the Bush administration and the Democrat-controlled Houses of Congress, “Congress should continue to call the president's bluff: no withdrawal plan, no new money for the war.” It sternly critiques the tough-guy Iraqi policy of the Bush administration for deviating from the sound military advice of his generals and even the bipartisan Iraqi Study Group to set a definite deadline for troop withdrawal, notwithstanding presenting the solid data in Iraq that legitimizes the growing call to finally pull out the troops, such as the immense loss of American and Iraqi lives, the costly $350 billion military spending, the displacement of millions of Iraqis, and the unrealistic goal of imposing peace and democracy. The editorial above is absolutely correct in asserting that Congress must continue calling the bluff of the President because it ensures that Congress will continue wielding the upper hand in the negotiations on the entire issue of the war, even if the President is the commander-in-chief. The power of the purse of Congress is an all important component in American democracy’s system of checks and balances that even the most powerful man in the world must recognize its authority, especially if he seeks the support of a coequal branch of government for funding his war. By calling the bluff, Congress can decisively pressure the government to accede to its demands of a troop pullout as vetoing the bill would be foolish because it would also mean vetoing the budget appropriations for the war. In this situation, the hands of the President are tied to the demands of Congress which President Bush must diplomatically resolve instead of unilaterally insisting on his plans without Congress approval. More so, the situation in Iraq and the weakening security situation in the United States should provide enough backdrop for the President to clearly rethink his position and work on a lasting solution to the crisis between branches of government but to decisively resolve the Iraqi question.

The Sacramento Bee editorial affirms and further articulates the statement of the San Jose Mercury News on the necessity of Congress’ assertions for a schedule for the withdrawal of the troops as part of the increased military spending on the Iraq war, as the Democrat-led Congress was only reflecting the increasing anti-war sentiments of the American people who decisively voted the Democrats into office. The editorial describes the political stalemate between the President and Congress as the opportunity to force both branches of government to veer away from very extreme demands such as immediate or no troop withdrawals. It also gives the Bush administration a chance of letting Gen. Petraus deliver results in improving the security situation of the Iraqi people and the US troops stationed there, especially in hotbed areas of sectarian violence and insurgency. Nonetheless, it affirms the Bush administration’s policy of engaging its regional allies in the Middle East to help the United States resolve the Iraqi question, as part of the implementation of the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and to stem the growing international criticism of unilateral American policy on reconstruction and development of the war-torn nation. The Sacramento Bee editorial added another dimension in the political economic factors that determine the current tussle between the Bush administration and the US Congress – the utter need of support by different states, especially regional allies in the Middle East. This can also be used as another bargaining chip by the US Congress to definitely pressure the Bush administration to accede to its demands, especially when these efforts by top executive officials led by the Secretary of State can be viewed merely as an afterthought as a result of the international flak the Bush administration has been receiving for its unilateralist foreign policy.

Final Call’s editorial, on the other hand, is an outright repudiation of both branches of government in the thick of conflict. It berates President Bush for continuing on with the war based on false intelligence and without consideration for the tremendous toll on US economic resources and American lives. It also castigates the Democrat-led US Congress for not doing enough in ensuring that the US troops in Iraq would go home immediately, asserting that the reason why American voters sent them to Congress is not to extend the war but to end the war as soon as possible. The editorial rejects even the one-year deadline set by the leading Democrats in Congress as it contained numerous loopholes that could even extend the war past the set deadline, and it even surmised that perhaps the basis for the seeming feet-dragging of Democrats on the immediate troop withdrawal has been the insertion of $25 million pork barrel funds for their use in their local districts, notwithstanding the political pressure from Republican counterparts for being weak on the defense of the American people. While this publication appears to toe the radical line of immediate troop withdrawal unlike the centrist-liberal positions of the previous editorials, it nonetheless presents a realistic picture of the current state of American politics today, in the context of how Congress acts especially when pork barrel funds are concerned. In many parliaments and congresses around the world, the congressional pork barrel has always been the source of much corruption and internal arrangements between political parties in securing concessions from each other. It is remarkable that Final Call’s editorial raised this possibility, as insertions of pork barrel provisions into bills of national importance raises questions on the sincerity of congressional leaders in truly responding to the people’s demand to withdraw the troops in Iraq.

In the Christian Science Monitor’s article on the troop withdrawal bill, it highlighted the questions by Republican representative in both Houses of Congress and anti-pork barrel watchdogs on the propriety of add-ons which are non-defense related, to the extent that a Republican congressman branded these non-defense appropriations a form of bribery to secure support from both Democrats and Republicans to join the congressional bandwagon. However, Democrats in Congress have admitted that their legislation is largely symbolic, as they do not posses the numbers to overturn a presidential veto. Such a veto, though, might be counterproductive, as it would also mean the veto of the budget bill in its entirety. On the other hand, the article is unique as it presents another dimension on the political economic factors that determine the decisions of Congress and the President – the swinging public opinion. Both branches of government are also relying on public opinion, as it is the single-most potent instrument in forcing a branch of government to submit, especially when hundreds of thousands of Americans start trooping to the streets demanding an immediate or gradual troop withdrawal. Nonetheless, the Democrats feel that public opinion is on their side on the matter, as evidenced by their win in the polls which was assessed as the stinging repudiation of President Bush’s waning Iraq policy.

In all of these, it is clear that the outcome of the decisions of both branches of government and the prospective resolution to the crisis are largely dependent on different factors other than the premises of the Iraq war itself and the party lines that the Democrats and Republicans draw. As stated above, it is also dependent on international support and concern, parochial interests such as the non-defense add-ons through pork barrel, and ultimately, American public opinion on the state of the Iraq war. Nonetheless, it is absolutely imperative now that the Bush administration and the Democrat-led Congress find a workable compromise on the issue with troop withdrawal as a non-negotiable segment in the compromise agreement. Congress tight leash on the purse of government is also pivotal in ensuring that the executive branch will be compelled to listen despite the latter’s immense powers. In the ultimate analysis, though, it must be clear to both branches of government that a way above their political bickering is essential in the effective resolution of the war, as the American troops deserve no less than a united government in confronting their woes and sending them home.

Works Cited:

  1. Chaddock, Gail Russell. “Congress puts its marker on Iraq war, but how big?.” Christian Science Monitor. March 26, 2007. Retrieved from on April 18, 2007.
  2. “Congress right to insist on Iraq withdrawal timeline.” San Jose Mercury News. April 12, 2007. Retrieved from on April 18, 2007.
  3. “Democrats in Congress: Wishy-washy or weak?.” Final Call. April 13, 2007. Retrieved from on April 18, 2007.
  4. “Stalemate over Iraq strategy isn't a bad thing.” The Sacramento Bee. March 25, 2007. Retrieved from print/story/143152.html on April 18, 2007.
  5. ______________. “Lessons of War: The fighting in Iraq enters its fifth year.”

Washington Post. March 18, 2007.

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