Iraq War Funding: "Compromise" or "Sellout"?

"Democrats intend to draft an Iraq war-funding bill without a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops," APreports. The article notes that "details remain subject to change," but says that the bill "would provide funds for military operations in Iraq through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year," implying that there would be no meaningful restriction on the President's request.

Like earlier articles containing basically the same information, the article doesn't cite any named sources, nor does it provide significant detail, suggesting that the anonymous announcement may be, to some extent, a trial balloon. If the announcement unleashes a tsunami of protest, leaders have left themselves room to back away from it. Hopefully, this is exactly what will happen.But suppose not. Suppose, as may be possible, that Democratic leaders have really committed themselves, as the AP article seems to suggest, to providing all the money for the war in Iraq that the President has asked for, without including any limitation on the duration of the war, nor any other meaningful restriction, regardless of how much protest this generates among opponents of the war - even at the cost of splitting the Democratic caucus. Then what?

"Democrats in both houses are expected to seek other opportunities later this year to challenge Bush's handling of the unpopular conflict," the AP article says.

No doubt they will. But this raises some troubling questions. Even if one were to accept the argument that Democrats right now don't have the Congressional votes or public support to further press their case on the supplemental against the White House and Congressional Republicans, it's still fair to ask - how is the leadership preparing the ground for the next round of conflict?

And there are two troubling questions here.

First: why is the overall funding level set in stone? The supplemental is purportedly to cover the period until September 30, the end of the fiscal year. Even if one accepted the idea of no limitation of the war before September 30, why is $100 billion necessary for this purpose? This has never been explained. If $100 billion were truly necessary for this purpose, that would mean that the rate of war spending was doubling compared to last year. A far more plausible explanation is that the supplemental is not intended to carry the war to September 30, but well beyond that. If the aim of the Congressional leadership is to revisit the issue in the fall, why provide funding well beyond that?

Second: on May 17 the House passed the defense authorization for 2008, "The bill includes $142 billion in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," but "does not require troop withdrawals or place restrictions on the war," APreported that day. If the intent of the House leadership on the FY 2008 authorization is that passage on May 17 was the last word on the matter, it's hard to reconcile that with a plan of revisiting the issue of the war in the fall.

If the House leadership is absolutely determined not to fight further for any restriction on the war in this round, and cannot be shaken from this position, then the the questions of the funding level and the 2008 authorization should be immediately revisited. Regarding the latter, while the 2008 defense authorization has passed the House, it hasn't passed the Senate, and unless the Senate passes it in exactly the same form - an unlikely prospect - the House can have another bite at the apple.

It's one thing to withdraw from the field with the intention of fighting another day. It's quite another thing to blow up your arsenal.

Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst and National Coordinator at Just Foreign Policy.

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