Iraq Bill Out of Conference


The House-Senate Conference Committee has just approved the Iraq Accountability Act, which includes the troop readiness standards and benchmarks for the Iraqi government found in the bill that passed the House, as well as a mandatory date to begin redeployment. If the President cannot certify progress by the Iraqi government, redeployment must start by July of this year, with a goal of being completed within 180 days. If the President can certify progress by July, redeployment must begin by October 1 of this year, with a goal of completion within 180 days. Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement on the Conference Committee approval:

    Pelosi and Reid Call on President to Support New Direction in Iraq

    “The agreement reached between the House and the Senate rejects the President’s failed policies in Iraq and his open-ended commitment to keep American troops there indefinitely and forges a new direction for a responsible end to the war.

    “If the President follows through on his veto threat, he will be the one who has failed to provide our troops and our veterans with the resources they need and it will be the President who has rejected the benchmarks he announced in January to measure success in Iraq. The bill ensures our troops are combat-ready before they are deployed to Iraq, provides our troops the resources and health care they deserve in Iraq and here at home, and responsibly winds down this war.

    “Iraqis must take the tough and necessary steps to secure their nation and to forge political reconciliation. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates understands the value of timelines in motivating the Iraqi Government to accomplish these goals. The President should carefully consider the views of his Secretary of Defense in making a judgment on this legislation.

    “An overwhelming majority of Americans, bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, military experts and the Iraq Study Group believe that a responsible end to the war best advances our national security needs. It is now up to the President to make a decision: continue to stay his failed course or join us to give our troops a strategy for success.”

Mandatory redeployment, children. Now let’s hope it passes quickly.

The Associated Press reported earlier today,

Defying a fresh veto threat, the Democratic-controlled Congress will pass legislation within days requiring the start of a troop withdrawal from Iraq by Oct. 1, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday.

The legislation also sets a goal of a complete pullout by April 1, 2008, he said.

In remarks prepared for delivery, Reid said that under the legislation the troops that remain after next April 1 could only train Iraqi security units, protect U.S forces and conduct “targeted counter-terror operations.”

Bush reaffirms rejecting timetable

Reid spoke a few hours after Bush said he will reject any legislation along the lines of what Democrats will pass. “I will strongly reject an artificial timetable (for) withdrawal and/or Washington politicians trying to tell those who wear the uniform how to do their job,” the president said.

Bush made his comments to reporters in the Oval Office as he met with senior military leaders, including his top general in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus.

Taken together, Reid’s speech and Bush’s comments inaugurated a week of extraordinary confrontation between the president and the new Democratic-controlled Congress over a war that has taken the lives of more than 3,200 U.S. troops.

Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq today by a single suicide bomber.

Reid isn’t backing down. He said today that Bush is “in denial.”

“No more will Congress turn a blind eye to the Bush administration’s incompetence and dishonesty,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record) said in a speech in which he accused the president of living in a state of denial about events in Iraq more than four years after the U.S.-led invasion. …

… In his remarks, Reid criticized Bush and called Vice President Dick Cheney the president’s “chief attack dog,” lacking in credibility.

He likened the president to Lyndon Johnson, saying the former president ordered troop escalations in Vietnam in an attempt “to save his political legacy,” only to watch U.S. casualties climb steadily.

Bush, he said, “is the only person who fails to face this war’s reality — and that failure is devastating not just for Iraq’s future, but for ours.”

The Right is throwing everything they have at him, including David Broder of the Washington Post. Think Project explains,

David Broder, the sagely insightful “dean” of the Washington press corps, attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today over his claim that the war in Iraq is lost.

Speaking on XM radio, Broder said that Reid should “learn to engage mind before mouth opens,” and suggested that Reid’s Senate allies “have a little caucus and decide how much further they want to carry Harry Reid” and his “bumbling performance.”

Asked if Harry Reid is “an embarrassment,” Broder said, “I think so,” since “every six weeks or so there’s another episode where he has to apologize for the way in which he has bungled the Democratic case.”

Well, somebody’s a public embarrassment, but I don’t think it’s Harry Reid.

Greg Sargent writes that, some reports to the contrary, Harry Reid has not backed off from or apologized for his “war is lost” comment from last week. See also Atrios.

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That Dog Won’t Hunt

You might have heard that New Gringrich blamed the Virginia Tech tragedy on liberals. I don’t know why anyone would be surprised at this. The pseudo conservative Right has been blaming liberals for everything wrong with the world for years. Essentially they took the old John Birch liturgy and substituted “liberal” for “Communist.” And they got away with this for a long time.

However, the Right was in total control of the federal government for the past few years, and during that time the world became more screwed up than it ever was, I wonder how well “it’s all liberals’ fault” still works. That might have been persuasive to some back when Democrats had had a majority in Congress for many years. Now it just sounds pathetic.

Also, from Think Progress:

In a new video, the the right-wing American Family Association attributes the tragedy at Virginia Tech to: a lack of prayer in school, a lack of the Bible in school, a lack of spanking kids, a lack of physical punishment in school, abortion, condoms, Bill Clinton, internet pornography, free speech, the entertainment industry, “satanic” music, and liberal culture in general.

An op ed in today’s Wall Street Journal also blames liberalism for the Virginia Tech shootings. Unlike the rantings of Gingrich and the AFA, this argument has a shred of truth. Not the whole truth, but some truth. Jonathan Kellerman writes about the anti-asylum movement of the 1970s that shut down many large psychiatric facilities and made it more difficult for people to be committed against their will.

Kellerman blames some off-the-wall theory floating around in psychiatric circles that “madness could be a reasonable reaction to an unjust society” and even that mental illness did not exist. As I remember at the time, the real impetus to closing many hospitals was the perception they had become little more than warehouses for people who might be better off in some kind of supervised living situation. Yes, some people who wanted to close the hospitals had seen “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” a few too many times. Others thought that patients might benefit from something like a halfway house arrangement until they were well enough to take care of themselves, instead of being locked up in a hospital. I think in some cases that’s a valid argument.

The problem was that this plan was only carried through halfway. Hospitals were closed, but the patients in them were not given the less-restrictive alternative they had been promised. They were just turned loose. Many ended up homeless or in jail. A few were a genuine danger to themselves and others.

The other part of the equation, involuntary commitment, is a bit dicier. Certainly involuntary commitment used to be abused. On the other hand, people who are psychotic or delusional are hardly in a position to make informed decisions about themselves.

In my long sorry life I’ve heard of a number of atrocities committed by disturbed people who had been denied adequate medical treatment. One that comes to mind is the murder of a New Jersey boy in 1997. The murderer was a 15-year-old whose parents had attempted to place in a hospital just days before. The parents were afraid the youth was a danger to himself, and possibly to others. The hospital psychiatric screening unit and a family court judge disagreed, and the judge told the family to get outpatient help. Shortly after this the youth sexually molested and then strangled an 11-year-old who was selling candy in the neighborhood.

The famous Andrea Yates who drowned her five children while in a psychotic state had been in and out of psychiatric facilities and the care of various shrinks for years before this tragedy. One limiting factor to her treatment was how much her medical insurance would pay. And, yes, her husband also made some boneheaded decisions, but in the days leading up to the tragedy he also had made some effort to get more aggressive treatment for her, without success.

But the bottom line is that as a nation, as a society, we have not shown much interest in resolving the issue of what to do about people with psychiatric illnesses. If Seung-Hui Cho had not killed himself, right now the nation would be arguing itself hoarse over the insanity defense. Instead, people are mostly ignoring Cho’s obvious mental disturbance and instead are using the tragedy to promote their (usually unrelated) political and social agenda.

I’m not sure what to do about the psychotics among us, either. But I do suspect the solution will require (1) much improved access to psychiatric health care as part of an overhaul of health care generally, and (2) better public education about psychiatric illness.

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Our Troops Are Bush’s Hostages

Paul Krugman says President Bush is holding our troops hostage.

There are two ways to describe the confrontation between Congress and the Bush administration over funding for the Iraq surge. You can pretend that it’s a normal political dispute. Or you can see it for what it really is: a hostage situation, in which a beleaguered President Bush, barricaded in the White House, is threatening dire consequences for innocent bystanders — the troops — if his demands aren’t met. …

… Mr. Bush isn’t really trying to win the argument on the merits. He’s just betting that the people outside the barricade care more than he does about the fate of those innocent bystanders.

This is an outstanding column that I urge you to read all the way through. Here’s a bit more:

What’s at stake right now is the latest Iraq “supplemental.” Since the beginning, the administration has refused to put funding for the war in its regular budgets. Instead, it keeps saying, in effect: “Whoops! Whaddya know, we’re running out of money. Give us another $87 billion.”

At one level, this is like the behavior of an irresponsible adolescent who repeatedly runs through his allowance, each time calling his parents to tell them he’s broke and needs extra cash.

What I haven’t seen sufficiently emphasized, however, is the disdain this practice shows for the welfare of the troops, whom the administration puts in harm’s way without first ensuring that they’ll have the necessary resources.

As long as a G.O.P.-controlled Congress could be counted on to rubber-stamp the administration’s requests, you could say that this wasn’t a real problem, that the administration’s refusal to put Iraq funding in the regular budget was just part of its usual reliance on fiscal smoke and mirrors. But this time Mr. Bush decided to surge additional troops into Iraq after an election in which the public overwhelmingly rejected his war — and then dared Congress to deny him the necessary funds. As I said, it’s an act of hostage-taking.

There’s been a lot of rhetoric about Bush and Congress playing a game of “chicken” over Iraq. I’ve witnessed also a ton of debate — public and private — on the Left about strategy and the virtues of passing a tough bill rather than a weak bill. Although the final bill is still in conference, rumor has it that the bill Congress will send Bush probably will have a “nonbinding” timetable as opposed to a firm one. This has got many who oppose the war wringing their hands about spineless Dems, which has become a habit on the Left. I’ve done plenty of it, too.

But I think, just this once, it doesn’t matter much. The important thing is to get Bush a bill that contains as many conditions on the Decider’s unfettered power as Congress can pass reasonably quickly. This means, like it or not, a bill that can get the votes of most of the conservative, Blue Dog Democrats and at least some Republicans. Because whatever bill Congress sends to Bush will be vetoed. A weak bill, a strong bill; doesn’t matter. It will be vetoed, because George Bush has a pathological aversion to being told what to do.

If Congress does send Bush a weak bill he would be smart to sign it. But his ego is on the line, so he won’t be smart. He’ll be stubborn. You can count on it.

Some are arguing today that since Bush will veto the bill, Dem leadership should be putting pressure on the softer Dems and antiwar Republicans to get on board with a strong bill. I’m fine with that, but only if this can be accomplished reasonably quickly. The worst thing Congress can do now is have a long-drawn-out fight over the wording of the bill. This would give the hawks plenty of time to saturate the nation with a propaganda campaign about “divided” Democrats wasting time providing critical supplies to our troops.

This is a public relations war, and much of the public isn’t going to pay attention to the fine print. What they’ll notice is Dems coming together quickly and decisively to send Bush a bill putting limits on the war. Or they’ll notice Dems fighting among themselves for weeks on end, unable to send Bush a bill putting limits on the war.

On the other hand, if Congress sends Bush a relatively weak bill, and he vetoes it, the Dems can rightfully say that Bush won’t compromise and isn’t interested in working with Congress to find a resolution to the Iraq problem. They could fan out around the country and tell constituents that the troops are hostage to Bush’s ego, and I think people would agree.

I’ve heard it argued that the antiwar Dems should hold out for the toughest possible bill, leaning on the “softer” Dems to comply, so that the public will perceive Dems to be strong. If Dems send a weak bill to Bush, the theory is, the public will lose respect for Dems. Maybe. But I think what would make Dems look even weaker is if they have to fight for several weeks to get the votes for a stronger bill, while Bush and his surrogates strut about the country saying that the Dems don’t know what they want, and that they’re just piddling around playing political games while the troops need their appropriation.

The worst thing that could happen is if the House-Senate conference puts together a tough bill that can’t pass, forcing them to crank out a series of incrementally weaker bills until they write one that can get a majority on board. That’s what would make the Dems look really weak. The GOP would have a fine time exploiting congressional pussyfooting.

Time is of the essence, as the lawyers might say. Whatever bill goes to Bush needs to go no later than next week, IMO. I’d love it if the Dems could send Bush a bill with a binding timetable, but not if it’s going to take several weeks and multiple passes to get to Bush’s desk.

Remember, there’s no rule that says Congress has to send Bush an even weaker bill next time. Some of the hand-wringers are making that assumption, but that’s not necessarily how it’s going to play out. IMO Dem leadership is just as likely to go to the public and say, well, we tried to work with him, but he won’t budge. So now we’ll have to get tough.

The fact is that nothing with any strings attached whatsoever will become law until there’s enough support for it to override Bush’s veto, and we’re still a long way away from that. Instead of endlessly carping at Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and David Obey, I wish the antiwar hotheads would apply pressure on the Blue Dogs and Republicans to help build a veto-proof majority for a bill that puts limits on Bush’s power. That would be (dare I say it?) useful, rather than self-indulgent.

We lefties can be our own worst enemies sometimes. I agree with what Swopa of Needlenose wrote here —

Personally, I don’t care if Bush doesn’t veto the bill, because that just sets him up for another measure to enforce the “advisory” language he’s already accepted. Here’s what I wrote a month ago:

    This is not going to be the last vote on the war, because as we all know, the war’s toll and the public’s revulsion towards it aren’t going to go away. Rather than tear ourselves apart trying to get everything we want on the first vote, progressive Dems are being smart to take what’s being offered — then, they should come back a minute after this vote and start asking for more. This should be the beginning of the snowball, the camel’s nose under the tent, a slippery slope, whatever cliche you want to use… and it’s time to stop settling for noble, principled defeats and learn how to win instead.

That logic is the same regardless of whether the bill Pelosi and Reid finish with includes mandatory timelines or merely “goals.”

In that same post, I wrote, “Kudos to Speaker Pelosi and the progressive Democrats in the House who recognized that the PR difference between even a small step toward ending the war and failing to pass anything will be enormous.” The aftermath of the initial votes has already demonstrated this, as Dems have become associated in the public’s mind with backing an end to the war.

For anti-war progressives to turn their back on the bill that comes out of the conference committee because the language isn’t strong enough would be essentially asking to give back what Democrats have gained in defining public opinion — and it would fly in the face of the reality that ordinary Americans aren’t parsing the differences in phrasing the way activists are. Sometimes, you just have to be smart enough to recognize that you’re winning, and not talk yourself out of what got you there.

The real fight is going to begin after the veto. What’s going on now is just ritual.

In related news: Davis Espo writes for the Associated Press:

With a veto fight looming, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday that President Bush is in a state of denial over Iraq, “and the new Congress will show him the way” to a change in war policy.

Reid, D-Nev., said the Democratic-controlled House and Senate will soon pass a war funding bill that includes “a fair and reasonable timetable” for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. In a speech prepared for delivery, he challenged Bush to present an alternative if, as expected, he vetoes the measure.

This is smart, but the “Congress will show him the way” rhetoric only works if Congress can get a bill to Bush quickly. I can’t emphasize that enough.

This is from an editorial in today’s New York Times:

President Bush is taking every opportunity to rail against the troop withdrawal deadlines in the war-spending bills that Congress is readying for passage. He warns that Congressional attempts to set deadlines will harm the troops in Iraq, because a political fight over timetables will delay money needed for the frontlines.

The assertion is completely contrived. Mr. Bush voiced no such misgivings last year, when the Republican-led Congress took until June to complete a war financing bill. The $103 billion Mr. Bush wants— and Congress is ready to provide — is for spending through the end of September. It’s not needed in a lump sum or on any particular date in the near future. In the end, the real obstacle to getting the money promptly to the troops will be the veto that the president has threatened to issue on the final bill. …

…Ideally, all nonemergency government spending — which obviously includes the Iraq war at this point — would be included in the annual federal budget. But ever since he started the war in 2003, Mr. Bush has maneuvered to pay for it via separate emergency measures. That ploy created a false impression of urgency, which made lawmakers who questioned the spending seem irresponsible. The effect was to short-circuit real debate about the war. Now that Democrats are using the bill precisely to raise questions — and pose answers — Mr. Bush is desperate to derail it.

If you want to see what a real spineless wimp does look like, don’t look at Harry Reid. Look at Doug Schoen, a political consultant (of course) who flaps about in today’s Boston Globe that

The 2008 election is the Democrats’ to lose. Attempting to usurp the powers of the commander of the chief — or risking the charge that Democrats have abandoned troops in the field — is one of the few ways the party could jeopardize its seemingly impregnable position. The best chance to end the war is to make sure the next president is a Democrat.

Bleep that. Congress isn’t attempting to “usurp” any powers the Constitution gives it, and I think more and more of the public is hungry to see Bush taken down a few pegs.

Finally — I regret I don’t have time today to demolish this piece by piece, but Michael Chertoff has an op ed in today’s Washington Post that argues the Iraq War really is essential to national security. He evokes September 11 in the first sentence. No, really. Y’all don’t need me to tell you how bleeped up this is.

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Ain’t Technology Wonderful?

I think the page hangup problem is fixed now. Let me know in the comments to this post if you are having any display or other problems with the page. Thanks for your patience!

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