What can one conclude about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forcing Congress to stay up all night debating a cut-and-run Iraq amendment to the defense-authorization bill? Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it was not. The amendment failed largely along party lines, and Reid plucked the bill from consideration. Game Over.
This test was a draw.
Winner #1: The Iraqis. It is looking increasingly like the Bush administration will be able to run out the clock and maintain support for the fledgling Iraqi government for the remaining 18 months of the president’s tenure. That means the Iraqis have about a year or so to do the only things that will really make a difference in securing a sovereign and stable country: pushing forward on the process of political reconciliation and building up a credible domestic-security force. If those two goals can be achieved, the Iraqis can implement, with international support, a long-term plan to effectively deal with the counterinsurgency. This is the best hope to avoid a Bosnia-on-steroids scenario in Iraq.
Winner #2: Democracy. If generals could figure out how to run wars thousands of miles from the battlefield in air-conditioned offices, they would have started doing that years ago. They don’t because they realize wars have to be fought on the ground in the presence of the enemy, not in a debate chamber where the uncomfortable realities of battle can be glossed over with speeches. If Congress starts dictating battle tactics by legislation, that does not simply put this war in doubt — it puts the capacity of America to fight any war in doubt.
Winner #3: America’s Army. Cutting and running from Iraq would squander the efforts being made Gen. David Petraeus and his soldiers to set the conditions for a responsible withdrawal of American forces — one that would not embolden Iran; offer al Qaeda a new sanctuary; risk a regional war; and unleash a humanitarian catastrophe. Cut-and-run legislation might also put more American lives at risk, dictating how and where troops could be employed in a manner that might make them more vulnerable. Commanders in the field must have the freedom of action to employ soldiers as they see fit to accomplish their mission, protect the force and safeguard civilians.
Loser #1: The Pentagon. The defense-authorization bill provides guidance to the military on a range of matters, from benefits for individual soldiers to modernizing equipment and taking care of military families. It is important companion legislation to the defense-appropriations bill. Pulling the bill is a disservice to the military.
Loser #2: Democracy. The debate over the defense-authorization bill put the importance “messaging” over legislating. In time of war, when congressional leaders believe driving the political agenda takes precedence over passing legislation necessary to oversee the activities of the Defense Department — that is just flat-out irresponsible.
Loser #3: C-SPAN. Will people continue to watch C-SPAN when they figure out that what senators debate on the floor of Congress has little to do with the reality of governing?
Unfortunately, when the game ends in tie, everyone is anxious for a rematch. The debate over Iraq will likely prove no different.
– James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation and author of G.I. Ingenuity.