The Democratic Center on Iraq as the Basis for a Bipartisan Solution

iven the partisan polarization about Iraq in the U.S. Congress, most people seem to have missed the positive development that House and Senate Democrats have been able to craft a nuanced and wise policy going forward on Iraq that arguably now commands the broad center of American politics.

Despite the president’s veto of this plan, the Democratic plan still provides the basis for a bipartisan compromise supported by the president going forward.

Thanks to the leadership of Senator Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, virtually all Senate and House Democrats have come together and crafted a proposal that is a centrist blend — neither a precipitous hard deadline for complete withdrawal as demanded by the “out now” Democratic left; nor staying the course and avoiding any commitment to begin withdrawing U.S. forces, the administration’s position. In fact, the Democratic measure is something in between.


Recent polls show that a substantial majority of Americans support the Democrats’ proposal. But what is easy to miss, perhaps because of the harsh criticisms on the Democratic measure by Vice President Cheney and congressional Republicans, is that it offers the president more flexibility and an opportunity to forge a bipartisan centrist approach than is generally understood.

To understand why, consider what is in the Democratic proposal — and, perhaps more importantly, what is not:

  • The proposal does not support a total withdrawal of all U.S. forces by a date certain. Rather, even if the itemized benchmarks for progress are not met by the Iraqi government — such as progress in developing Iraqi forces, giving U.S. troops authority to pursue extremists, establishing a militia disarmament program, pursuing Sunni/Shia reconciliation initiatives, etc. — the Democratic proposal would still allow U.S. military forces to remain in Iraq without a deadline. They can do so for various specific purposes that most people, including ardent anti-war Democrats, should support, such as to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, to engage in special actions against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, or to train and equip Iraqi forces.

  • The proposal does not deprive the president of the discretion and crucial decision-making role as commander in chief in affecting future policies and events in Iraq. Indeed, the Democrats would give President Bush significant discretion that would affect the pace and timing of withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. forces.

    First, the president is given the discretion to determine whether the specified benchmarks had been met. If he does so, there is no mechanism in the legislation for challenging his decision.Second, if the president determines that the benchmarks “are being” met (not have all been met), the legislation gives him the further discretion to delay the commencement of the “redeployment” from July 1, 2007 to Oct. 1, 2007, and thus, the “completion” of that redeployment 180 days later, or by April 1, 2008. In short, the extension of time to April 1 of next year would automatically occur if the president determines it is necessary to accomplish the specific purposes described above.

  • Most importantly, the Democratic proposal does not impose a numerical limit on how many U.S. soldiers the president can maintain in Baghdad or anywhere else in Iraq to achieve these purposes. If, for example, there is a resurgence of al Qaeda in Baghdad, the president could maintain substantial U.S. military forces on the ground even after latest date in the Democratic proposal of April 1, 2008 to complete redeployment. He could, for example, after that date, consistent with the Democratic proposal, leave thousands GIs and weapons behind and use massive air power to attack if that is necessary to destroy entrenched al Qaeda terrorists and its infrastructure.


Note also that the Democrats carefully have used the word “redeployment” — not withdrawal — when referencing the process of withdrawal. This should be interpreted as a commitment by the Democratic congressional leadership to a continuation of U.S. military presence and responsibility to fight terrorism in the region — whether in secure desert bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries, such as Kuwait or Turkey.

In short, now that the president has vetoed the Democratic measure, it is a propitious time to develop a bipartisan compromise agreement, with the Democratic measure as a good starting point for negotiations.

That compromise would have the core elements of the Democratic measure — the specific benchmarks and grounds for retaining U.S. military forces — with specific dates that could be described for now, consistent with the president’s concerns, as “goals,” not “deadlines.”

Moreover, Republican leaders in recent weeks have spoken up in favor of tougher and more specific benchmarks and timelines for the Iraqis to satisfy — and the real consequences for not doing so. A bipartisan deal seems possible to establish such tougher benchmarks along with specific timelines (avoiding the word deadlines) for achieving them — and with consequences for not doing so.

Such a compromise may not make the purist anti-war or pro-war bases of either party entirely happy. But that’s what probably makes both politically and substantively correct.

And it’s just a first step. It would not preclude the Democrats from enacting hard deadlines in the future if the benchmarks are not met; nor President Bush from seeking greater force commitments and financial support for the Iraqi government if these benchmarks are met.

It’s worth a try. We know that partisan sniping won’t solve the problem. Now it’s time to try bipartisan cooperation in the middle of wartime and to re-create the great center of American politics that we need to lead us now more than ever.

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