The Road to Withdrawal

By Kenneth R. Timmerman
FrontPageMagazine.com | November 9, 2006

Democrats are understandably exhilarated by their decisive takeover of the House on Tuesday. But once the champagne bubbles go flat, they are going to find that their ability to carry out their most prominent campaign promise is limited.

The president was quick to acknowledge the obvious message the Republican defeat carried by firing Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday. No one can deny that this election was a referendum on the administration’s conduct of the war in Iraq, and in particular, the president’s refusal to set a date certain for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
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But incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and likely Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton are going to find it easier said than done to simply set a date for the “phased withdrawal” of U.S. troops to begin, as they promised American voters.
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First, the obvious. The House of Representatives has the power of the purse, but not the power to command. They cannot order the president or the Secretary of Defense to withdraw U.S. troops or even set a date for that withdrawal to begin. All they can do, should negotiations with the White House break down, is to cut off funds for the war.
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It’s not hard to imagine how Republicans will respond should Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat leadership chose to go down that road. Rush Limbaugh will have a field day. Democrats have abandoned our troops in combat, left them without bullets or billets? Not even Chris Matthews or Dan Rather could spin Pelosi a way out of that political minefield.
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So, now that the hype of the election campaign is behind us, what will the Dems do?
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We know that Bush has already been meeting with Pelosi quietly in the White House. This president is someone who has shown he cares little about personal popularity or public perception,
as my colleague at Newsmax Ron Kessler remarked recently.
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But he cares deeply about doing what he believes is right, and that is leading our nation in a just, global war against the forces of darkness that attacked us on September 11, after five earlier attacks by al-Qaeda and its allies that went unanswered during the Clinton administration
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Bush has shown he can quickly back down from what he previously painted as an absolute position of principle, if he become convinced he has no other choice. (One example: after saying he thought campaign finance reform was unconstitutional as passed by Congress, he signed the McCain-Feingold bill into law).
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In the coming weeks and months, we are going to hear new weasel-terms coming out of the White House to describe what Pelosi and the Democrat leadership have called “phased withdrawal” from Iraq. The fig leaf for this policy strip tease will be provided by the bipartisan Iraq Policy Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman and 9/11 Commission member, Lee Hamilton.
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Prospective Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has caught the tune. On Wednesday, he called for an “Iraq Summit” to draft a bi-partisan “new direction” for the Iraq war.
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Before all the clothes come off, the Pentagon will have to work overtime to train Iraqi security forces so they have the numbers (if not the determination) to carry out most security tasks by themselves.
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But even the most partisan Democrats (at least, those who have retained their faculties) understand that the United States cannot simply pull out of Iraq tomorrow. To do so would have the effect of turning over the country to our enemies: al-Qaeda, Iran, Syria, and the remnants of Saddam’s regime.
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So there is the first constraint. Democrats will simply be unable to deliver on the main campaign promise, because 1) they do not have the power to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, and 2) because any effort to defund the U.S. war effort would be political suicide.
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Call it a Wake up Call.
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Former McCain advisor Marshall Wittmann, who is now an advisor to the Democratic Leadership Council and runs the
“Bull Moose” blogspot, believes the Democrats are slowly recognizing these realities. He argues that one key was the re-election of Joe Lieberman to the United States Senate as an Independent.
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Lieberman’s victory was a “massive repudiation” of the party’s dominant left wing, that should “send a powerful message to the '08 wannabees that winning the affections of the nutroots and the activists does not translate into victory in the general election - even in a state as blue as Connecticut,” Wittmann said.
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The real limiting factor on the new Democratic Party majority, however, will not be the White House, its own left-wing, or the Iraqi government of Prime Minister al-Malaki.
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It will be Iran, and Iran’s allies in Europe and the United Nations.
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We cannot defeat the insurgency in Iraq and bring U.S. troops home without defeating the regime in Iran, because Iran has been funding, training, and supplying the weapons to the Iraqi insurgents.
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And we cannot defeat the Tehran regime without a comprehensive policy to do so - which neither the White House, the Pentagon, nor Congressional Democrats have been willing to craft.
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That is the real challenge facing us in the coming weeks and months.
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The questions I have as I look forward are these:
   ‚Ä¢     Will Nancy Pelosi chose to commit political suicide and cut off funds to U.S. troops in Iraq? (I doubt it.)
   ‚Ä¢     Will incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seek an accommodation with Iran and Syria to cut off their support for the insurgents? (I fear, yes.)
Pelosi will be limited in her options by political realities. But Bob Gates, as Secretary of Defense nominated by the president with the blessing of the new Democrat majority, will not. He will be able to carry out the dramatic shift in policies the Democrats and their allies in the Brent Scowcroft wing of the Republican Party have been clamoring for, behind the fig leaf of bipartisanship.
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I have a great deal of respect for Bob Gates. Not only is he personally brilliant; he understands the way government works and specifically, how to cut through huge bureaucracies to accomplish his goals.
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And that is precisely my fear.
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The last thing we need to do is turn Iraq over to financial, military, and intelligence controllers sitting in Tehran, as the price of bringing the troops back home.
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But that a deal I believe Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are prepared to make, as long as the proposal comes from Republicans or from a bipartisan commission that gives them political cover.
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Kenneth R. Timmerman is the author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum, New York), and Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.

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