Thursday, May 3, 2007

Handicapping The Iraq War Funding Negotiations .

Today's Washington Post reports on the initial steps by all parties to come to a conclusion on the badly needed funding for the military in Iraq. The Democrats have agreed to drop their more egrigous positions legislating defeat on dates certain during the next year. That said, it seems pretty clear that the Democrats are far from done trying to poison the well.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who but a little more then a week ago called the Iraq war "lost" and the surge "failed," is making an amorphous demand now that any agreement will have to "effect war policy" and "transition" the mission in Iraq. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, still vociferously clinging to an alternate reality in which the war in Iraq is somehow seperate and apart from the larger war against al Qaeda and radical Islam, reiterated her position that she is committed to "ending the war."

Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer is calling for bench marks with significant reductions in aid if the bench marks are missed. Bush has already indicated a willingness to discuss such benchmarks. In all liklihood, negotitations will center over what bench marks to use, how to quantify them, and what will be the adverse consequences for failing to meet them. And there, the Democratic devil will be in the details.

As to the major political benchmarks that both parties have long discussed - the oil law, the de-baathification law, and the federalism issue - the first two are in various legislative stages, and the latter issue of federalism will likely be rendered substantially moot by resolution of the oil law.

In a very significant development, the oil law has been reported out of the cabinet and will be voted on this month. Actually, if it is approved, it will go a long way to answering the federalism question that is also hanging out there. The oil law would collect the oil profits within the central government and require that they be spent or granted to the provinces on a per capita basis. The Kurds, who dream of a seperate Kurdistan state and want to control the oil and the oil wealth in their provinces, are screaming bloody murder at this. But with less then 60 seats in the 275 member Parliament, it seems certain they will be unable to stop it. Further, I would imagine that the pressure on them from the Bush administration to accept this one as is will be enormous.

The de-baathification law has been submitted by Maliki to the cabinet. This law is still on track. Prior reports claimed that the law would be D.O.A. because Grand Ayatollah Sistani criticized it. Those reports were untrue. Hopefully the law will be reported to Parliament before their proposed summer recess, however truncated that may end up being.

The one benchmark no one is talking about is possibly the most important. It is reconstruction and the provision of services - water, sewage, electricity, health care - into each area that is secured by Coalition Forces. Clean running water and 24/7 electricity will likely do more to bring peace and stability to Iraq then any other single thing the government could do. If anything, that should be the lasar focus of Maliki and the U.S. government. How much do you want to bet it does not get mentioned in the negotiations?

All of the other "bench marks" being tossed out by the Democrats now seem likely to be poison pills designed to force defeat by the back door. Specifically, they are bench marks such as "quelling religious violence and disarming sectarian militias," as suggested by Hoyer.

One, those proposed benchmarks are the whole purpose of the counterinsurgency strategy now being overseen by General Petraeus. Two, both defy anything but the most speculative of quantification. Three, because this is a war and month to month success is not guaranteed -- al Qaeda, Syria and Iran are unwelcome players in this too -- it would make no military sense to use these as benchmarks. To put it in perspective, it would be akin to requiring the Army to retreat from Europe after the D-Day invasion because the Germans launched a significant counter-attack at the Battle of the Bulge.

It is one thing to use as a bench mark whether the Iraqi government is setting up any systemic block in the way of "quelling religious violence and disarming sectarian militias." At this point, there is nothing to indicate that Maliki is doing that. Regardless, looking to those benchmarks from the stanpoint of systemic blocks would make sense. But I seriously doubt that is what Hoyer has in mind. And any attempt to go beyond that would be a gross intrusion into the decision-making arena of the military commanders on the ground.

It is too early to tell just how far the Democrats will go in trying to insure defeat and retreat. Certainly, the increasingly dominant far left of the party - motivated seemingly in toto by varying combinations of generic anti-war sentiment, hatred of all things Bush, and the partisan politcs of electoral victroy in 08 - will be satisfied with nothing less then the defeat that Harry Reid has already proclaimed. Given that the party leadership is so thoroughly in the far left camp, look for the Democrats to do all they can to prevent the surge from succeeding between now and September, and look for them to try and backdoor provisions in these negotiations likely to produce defeat through very ambiguous standards coupled with signficant penalties.

1 comment:

Dinah Lord said...

Scott -

Are you hearing anything about the Iraqi lawmakers taking a vacation in the middle of all this?

(Kind of reminds me of our congress. I guess bureaucrats are bureaucrats wherever they are.)

I've also heard that another reason for the lack of forward motion is that the Iraqis have a hard time getting a quorum to bring things to a vote. 'Security concerns' are prompting the lawmakers to stay home. Have you read/heard anything about this?

Cheers - Dinah

P.S. ANOTHER great piece. Am I starting to sound like a sycophant yet???


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