Almost instantly after their legislative victory linking Iraq war funding to a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops, Democratic lawmakers began looking at alternatives to their bill. The president's veto on Tuesday (NYT) made good on his promise to reject the war-funding bill as “defeatist legislation that insists on a date for surrender.” Yet public opinion surveys indicate solid public support (Pew) for a troop withdrawal timeline, emboldening congressional Democrats to press the president for a compromise.
So far the congressional Democrats have reflected a public mood that opposes the Iraq war but displays little clarity about how it should end, writes Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books. “They have adopted the position that they aren't trying to end the war but to ‘refocus the mission’ so that American troops will be in less danger,” she writes. The Democrats’ ability to maneuver through the political standoff with President Bush will have repercussions both for the prosecution of the war, and for their party’s political prospects in the 2008 campaign. Democratic presidential aspirants in their first debate on April 26 all expressed eagerness to end the Iraq war, though they differed on the details. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) was the only major candidate who stated at the debate that he supports eventually cutting off funding (WashPost) for the war.
With signs that Republican patience on Iraq is ebbing, lawmakers from both major parties indicated they were in new territory regarding what to do next (SFChron). Congress has challenged presidents on wartime powers before, as this new Backgrounder notes, but rarely with such vitriol. One option for Democrats is to support a two-month supplemental bill (The Hill) while continuing efforts to alter administration policy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told CFR.org that if Congress fails to pass a “clean” supplemental spending bill soon, “I think it is very destructive for the country and increases the problems of the American military substantially.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, warned of an increase in sectarian violence in the event of a drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq. In a series of on-the-street interviews after the congressional votes, Iraqis themselves expressed concern about a security vacuum (Reuters) in Iraq following a major departure of U.S. forces.
Bush has stressed that the surge is only partially under way, and says there are indications that it is working to secure Iraqi neighborhoods. CFR Senior Fellow Max Boot is also cautiously optimistic after a recent visit to Iraqi hotspots. Boot is impressed by the new strategy (Weekly Standard), writing that U.S. soldiers are no longer “simply speeding down streets in their armored Humvees hoping not to hit an IED [improvised explosive device].” Reuel Marc Gerecht, also writing in the Weekly Standard, says the U.S. military is “finally waging a counterinsurgency that makes sense: We are focusing our efforts on securing Iraqi lives and property.” But each stage of the U.S. domestic debate is clouded by grim reports from Iraq. American forces recently suffered their worst casualties from a single attack in nearly two years, with nine soldiers (IHT) killed by a suicide bomber in Diyala Province, where U.S. troops are more exposed under the new counterinsurgency strategy.