Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Amendments, Poor Timing, and Over-Reach

As anticipated, a flurry of amendments hit the Senate floor concerning the conduct of the war in Iraq. Some of them contained good ideas, some not so much.

Senator Nelson cosponsored an amendment which proposed to “protect Americans and American interests and facilities in Iraq, protect the integrity of Iraq’s borders – territorially, engage and eliminate Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Iraq, continue training of Iraqi military and security forces,” and called “for the transition of mission to begin immediately and sets a goal of completing redeployment (to new missions in Iraq) by March 31, 2008.”

Senator Hagel submitted an amendment which aims to “transition the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq to focus on protecting Americans in Iraq, protect the territorial integrity of Iraq, train and equip Iraqi Security Forces, and engage in targeted actions against members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Iraq; and establishes a goal of redeploying all U.S. combat forces from Iraq who are not essential to meeting the new limited mission by March 31, 2008.”

Senator Hagel’s amendment also calls for “the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) to propose the appointment of an international mediator in Iraq, under the auspices of the UN Security Council.”

The calls by both for protecting the territorial integrity of Iraq are welcomed for the safety of our troops and Iraq’s stability.

The evidence continues to mount against Iran and its influence in Iraq. The last several months have seen a tremendous increase in the news directly tying Iran to bombings and attacks in Iraq. Many of our servicemen and women are dying as a direct result or Iranian made munitions or at the hands of Iranian trained insurgents. Press releases noting the capture of those involved with moving insurgents in and out of Iran for terrorist training have been common over the last few months.

The initial benchmark assessment report from the 12th indicated that 80 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq have been foreign-born terrorists.

Efforts should be redoubled to keep our troops and the Iraqi people safe from these outside influences.

Both amendments rightfully call for continued actions against Al Qaeda. By wording, one would surmise that Senator Nelson envisions more aggressive action against them. The specifically “targeted” aspect proposed by Senator Hagel would be just a notch better than his previously neglecting to address this aspect of the conflict.

Senator Nelson calls for transitioning to the proposed mission within Iraq to be completed by March 31, 2008. Senator Hagel’s amendment emphasizes pulling troops not involved with “limited missions” out of Iraq by that same date. The difference between the two would be consistent with Senator Hagel’s preference to quit the fight, and reflective of comments from Senator Nelson’s office that he understands the consequences of not winning this war.

Senator Hagel’s calls for diplomacy within the region are redundant, as actions are taking place in that arena. They may not be happening at a level acceptable to someone whose focus is solely on diplomacy instead of the reality of having to balance the military-diplomatic-political aspects of such a conflict, but they are taking place.

Engaging the antagonists, specifically Iran and Syria is necessary, but mediating through the U.N. would likely prove to be an exercise in futility. The U.N. has proven time and again its ineffectiveness in dealing with issues of this magnitude.

In reflecting on any of these amendments that might contain good ideas for Iraq two items can’t be ignored.

First is the poor timing. These calls for a new direction in Iraq are being made as “The Surge” is just now finally fully under way. The calls to change direction have been made despite progress on 8 of 18 benchmarks in what was just an initial report and despite the Iraqi people now having Al Qaeda on the run in Anbar and Diyala. They have labeled it a failure despite news from ground commanders like Major General Lynch who just this week spoke of significant gains against the enemy and with the Iraqis. They have called General Petraeus’ plan a failure before it’s been executed.

Second, but more important, is the fact that Congress is overreaching. They have the power of the purse strings, not the power to dictate military strategy. They may not be trying to micromanage the military commanders who would be free to implement Congress’ plan as best they see fit, but that’s the problem, it’s Congress’ plan.

Congress is not the branch of our government which makes and dictates military strategy. They may not be micromanaging the generals on the ground, but they are trying to micromanage the war. Congress can not and should not insert itself into the chain of command this way.

It is Congress’ job to make recommendations and to approve or disapprove the money, maybe with benchmarks for its release, but not by dictating what strategy will be pursued.

That is the authority and responsibility of the Executive Branch. Allowing Congress to assume the role as a collective commander in chief and dictate war strategy would be wrong in this war or any other. It would be a dangerous precedent for our country; probably even fatal for our long term war fighting capability and national security.

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