Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi can make bipartisan history on Iraq

George Washington must be banging his fist in heaven at the damage inflicted from home on American troops in Iraq.
Enough. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) can change American history by standing hard for 60-to-90-day funding for the war, requiring a new vote by August, and leading a landmark new policy supporting troops and vets.

Let me assert categorically that if allowed to testify truthfully, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. Peter Pace and Gen. David Petraeus would view this policy shift as an outstanding opening for the first genuine bipartisan policy in the history of this war.

Forcing a new vote creates hard pressure on an Iraqi government that every commander believes is disastrously uncommitted to political solutions.

Democrats have an extraordinary opportunity to change the calculus of national security politics for a generation by making a historic stand that ties any continued Iraq funding to historic new support for troops, and honorable outreach for genuine bipartisanship for the broader policy.

This proposal can win. The president gets funding for months while congressional leaders champion historic support for troops and vets.

The current escalation inherently requires abusive practices of extended tours of duty, deployment extremes and deadly equipment shortages that destroy lives, safety and the mental health of our troops.

A major new Pentagon study makes exactly this point, but was shamefully withheld from November until May. The Joint Chiefs and Iraq commanders knew this when they opposed the surge last year, because they understood it would require extreme and deadly abuses of deployment practices.

Scandals about treatment of wounded troops and grossly shortchanged veterans’ programs continue unabated.

The long-term needs for veterans and troops that are unmet, unplanned and unbudgeted could be $700 billion.

This is a moral, military and patriotic dereliction unprecedented in American history.

Incredibly, troops still suffer preventable deaths because inadequately made Humvee doors lock them in deathtraps.
Every hour, today, the destruction of mental health of our troops increases. Vet centers fall further behind. Treatment for post-traumatic stress and brain injuries falls far short.

Long-term costs for veterans’ health skyrocket to stratospheric heights.

If Reid and Pelosi demonstrate the courage to fight for time-limited funding, and use the time to mobilize landmark initiatives for troops and vets, Democrats gain the high ground, apply maximum pressure on Republicans and open the door to genuine bipartisanship.

The war now escalates ad nauseum for the political convenience of Republicans in Congress who privately do not believe in the policy but vote for it, every time. They desperately want to give the appearance of change while giving the president the power to continue the disaster.

If the movement among some congressional Democrats succeeds for another vote by August, Iraqis would understand: Time is short, enforcement is real. No longer can Iraqi leaders use American lives to prolong sectarian wars and Iranian agendas.

Democrats should initiate historic hearings and bring in military leaders, advocates for veterans, the Joint Chiefs and Iraq commanders, and prepare a plan for troops and vets that is courageous and comprehensive.

Congressional Democrats should hold town meetings that include leaders such as Gen. Wesley Clark, Bob Kerrey, John Glenn and Sam Nunn.

Democrats should have the courage to ask the American people to support a Soldier’s Bond, a voluntary patriot surtax or whatever it takes.

Pelosi and Reid can change America by showing that we need not be trapped in endless war, without rational end.

Remember: when the Speaker made a bold move to Syria she was demeaned by a president who said he would never do this, and then sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to meet with the Syrians. The Speaker was right, the policy changed, and it can happen again.

Democrats can become the party of highest support for troops and military families and lift the spirit of Americans with the first rays of hope and optimism. We can offer the beginning of the end of what historians will condemn as dark days of partisan bitterness and disastrous policy.

If Democrats lead, the public will applaud us, and many Republicans will ultimately join us.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then-chief deputy whip of the House. A contributing editor to Fighting Dems News Service, he can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net and read on The Hill Pundits Blog, where a longer version of this op-ed will soon appear.