Democrats need ‘monumental’ progress in Iraq; blips won’t change minds

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

Democrats, in­clud­ing the party’s con­ser­va­tive “Blue Dogs,” say it will take “monumental” im­prove­ment in Iraq — not the cur­rent blips of suc­cess — to sway them from push­ing for a U.S. troop with­drawal af­ter a Septem­ber progress re­port.

“The mil­i­tary vic­to­ries are just episodic,” said Rep. Jane Har­man, a hawk­ish Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat and chair­man of the Home­land Se­cu­rity intelligence sub­com­mit­tee.

“It is doubt­ful that there will be a sil­ver bul­let, or even a brass bul­let, in this re­port that will turn this thing around.”

Rep. Char­lie Wil­son, a fresh­man Demo­crat from a con­ser­va­tive bluecol­lar Ohio dis­trict, said he “would def­i­nitely need monumental proof, not just an iso­lated im­prove­ment.”

The re­marks echo the opin­ion of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, who aides say is “not will­ing to con­cede there are pos­i­tive things to point to” in Iraq, de­spite re­cent up­beat as­sess­ments from Pen­tagon of­fi­cials, House mem­bers who toured Iraq and even from a lib­eral Wash­ing­ton think tank.

The Democrats’ an­ti­war base also will not budge, re­gard­less of what is in the Sept. 15 re­port from Am­bas­sador Ryan C. Crocker and Army Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, U.S. com­man­der in Iraq.

“No mat­ter what the Pe­traeus re­port says we will con­tinue to call for the speedy and safe with­drawal of all U.S. troops,” said Medea Ben­jamin, spokes­woman for the fem­i­nist an­ti­war group Code Pink.

The Demo­crat-led Congress con­tin­ued to ham­mer the war is­sue on Aug. 2, with a near party­line 229-194 House vote ap­prov­ing a bill that would limit time of troop de­ploy­ments.

Sup­port­ers said it would en­sure troop readi­ness, re­quir­ing troops’ time at home equal to time in com­bat.

“Our troops and their fam­i­lies are tired. They are be­ing stressed by the con­tin­ued and ex­tended de­ploy­ments,” said Rep. Ike Skel­ton, Mis­souri Demo­crat and chair­man of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

“It is time for Congress to take a stand on be­half of our fam­i­lies and say in a clear, un­equiv­o­cal voice that it is time that ser­vice mem­bers have a min­i­mum dwell time be­tween de­ploy­ments,” he said.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, called the bill a “back­handed at­tempt to force an Amer­i­can with­drawal from Iraq.”

A sim­i­lar mea­sure by Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Vir­ginia Demo­crat, failed in the Se­nate last month.

Though Iraq re­mains mired in vi­o­lence and blood­shed, re­cent mil­i­tary gains in­clude more se­cu­rity through­out Bagh­dad, re­duced sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, al Qaeda los­ing ground in Sunni ar­eas and the year’s low­est U.S. ca­su­alty count in July.

“Here is the most im­por­tant thing Amer­i­cans need to un­der­stand: We are fi­nally get­ting some­where in Iraq, at least in mil­i­tary terms,” wrote Michael E. O’Han­lon and Ken­neth M. Pol­lack, two lib­eral Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion schol­ars who pre­vi­ously crit­i­cized the war strat­egy, in an op-ed ar­ti­cle on July 30 in the New York Times.

“The surge can­not go on for­ever,” they wrote. “But there is enough good hap­pen­ing on the bat­tle­fields of Iraq to­day that Congress should plan on sus­tain­ing the ef­fort at least into 2008.”

But Democrats pre­dict bad news in the re­port — par­tic­u­larly the fail­ure of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment to meet bench­marks for po­lit­i­cal rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in the coun­try — will per­suade Repub­li­cans to split from Pres­i­dent Bush and back a pull­out plan.

They do con­cede that signs of progress in the re­port would likely frac­ture the cau­cus and de­rail pull­out leg­is­la­tion.

“It would be a prob­lem for us,” House Ma­jor­ity Whip James E. Cly­burn, South Carolina Demo­crat, told The Wash­ing­ton Post last week.

About 69 per­cent of vot­ers dis­ap­prove of Mr. Bush’s han­dling of the war and 66 per­cent say the war is go­ing badly, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent CBS News/New York Times poll.

Af­ter re­peat­edly fail­ing to force Mr. Bush to ac­cept a troop-with­drawal timetable be­cause they could not muster a veto-proof ma­jor­ity, Mrs. Pelosi and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, set their sights on the Septem­ber re­port.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion un­der­took a pub­lic-re­la­tions of­fen­sive to tout progress in Iraq and si­mul­ta­ne­ously lower Capi­tol Hill law­mak­ers’ ex­pec­ta­tions for the Septem­ber re­port.

Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney is the high­est-rank­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial to de­liver the mes­sage, say­ing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” on July 31 that the re­port likely will show “sig­nif­i­cant progress.”

“The re­ports I’m hear­ing from peo­ple whose views I re­spect in­di­cate that the Pe­traeus plan is in fact pro­duc­ing re­sults,” he said.

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