Everybody's a General in the Army called Congress.
Saturday, March 17, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
To understand why the Founders put Presidents in charge of war fighting, look no further than the supplemental war spending bill now moving through the House. Everybody's a four-star in Congress's Army, and every general wants his own command, especially if it includes cash for the troops, er, campaign contributors. Too bad none of this bears any relation to what real General David Petraeus is trying to accomplish in Iraq.
Not that we don't sympathize with Defense Secretary Nancy Pelosi. She won the majority in part by riding antiwar sentiment, and now her antiwar ranks are demanding satisfaction. So she's moved beyond the political evasion of "non-binding" resolutions and is trying to attach binding legal restrictions in spending bills on President Bush's ability to conduct the war. This is the strategy she and General Jack Murtha have worked out.
Trouble is, some of her sincere antiwar Members don't think even this goes far enough and want to cut off funding for the war immediately. (Wisconsin Democrat David Obey recently referred to this crowd as "idiot liberals," a phrase we've often longed to use but thought a tad unsubtle.)
And double trouble is, Speaker Pelosi also has more-moderate Members from swing districts who wouldn't be caught dead voting to de-fund the troops. They don't want to be seen "micromanaging" the war either, to quote Tennessee Democrat Jim Cooper's apt word. This angst was also on display this week in the Senate, which rejected similar stop-the-war-now language as all but one Republican held and three Democrats defected.
So what's a leader of Congress to do to get a majority? You know the answer: Let the vote-buying begin!
Thus has Mr. Bush's request for $100 billion to fund the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus $3 billion to replenish the disaster-relief fund, devolved into a $124.6 billion logrolling extravaganza. You can get the flavor from the bill's very first words on page two: "Title I--Supplemental Appropriations for the Global War on Terror Chapter 1 Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service." Forget the Marines; send in the meat inspectors.
This bill has everything the modern military doesn't need. There's $25 million for spinach, designed to attract the vote of Sam Farr, a California farm-region liberal. Perhaps spinach growers who lost business due to last year's E. coli scare need this taxpayer bailout, but it won't intimidate the Taliban unless Mr. Farr plans to draft Popeye.
Other lowlights include $20 million to restore farmland damaged by freezing temperatures, and $1.48 billion for livestock farmers. And don't forget the $74 million "to ensure proper storage for peanuts," an urgent national-security need. This happens to be about the same amount that House Democrats propose to increase spending for operations of the Army Reserve, so it's good to see Congress has its priorities in order.
Then there are the provisions to raise the minimum wage, at one pace for the continental U.S. but at a separate, slower pace for the Northern Mariana Islands. And $500 million for "urgent wildland fire suppression"--that's forest fires, not weapons fire. There's so much more, if only the press corps would take the time to look.
This pork-barrel blowout is grounds enough for a Presidential veto. But the vote-buying is more important for what it says about Congress and the way it wants to micromanage the war. Any legislature is essentially a committee of special interests, each of which wants to be massaged. This is true of war strategy as much as farm policy. The goal isn't victory in Iraq, but "victory" on Capitol Hill, which means cobbling together a majority of 218 in the House and 51 in the Senate. Logrolling and micromanagement are two sides of the same coin of the legislative Pentagon.
In any case, Democrats still aren't taking any real war responsibility. Instead of cutting off funds right now, which would at least be a policy, they kick the issue down the road by imposing "benchmarks." So unless the Iraqis meet certain conditions set by Congress by July 1 and October 1 of this year, U.S. troops will have to redeploy at once and finish within 180 days. And even if these earmarks--sorry, benchmarks--are met, all U.S. troops must begin to retreat by March 2008.
All of this is flatly unconstitutional, but far worse it is an insult to the troops in the field. If Iraq's parliament somehow gets bogged down--like Congress?--on de-Baathification or dividing up oil revenues, American troops have to end their mission. So General Petraeus's war strategy is made hostage to two legislatures, in Baghdad and the Beltway.
Once the U.S. retreats, American forces would then be permitted only to fight al Qaeda and "other terrorist organizations with global reach." So the Army Colonel leading a strike brigade would have to think twice, or consult his lawyers, about just what constitutes "global reach." Did Abu Musab al-Zarqawi qualify since he merely called his outfit "al Qaeda in Iraq"? Democrats are trying to appease their antiwar left by attaching a thousand bureaucratic and legal strings, rather than being accountable with an up-or-down funding vote. As Mr. Obey told those "idiot liberals" in a moment of candor caught on camera, he believes this "bill ends the war." Just not honestly.
Meanwhile, on the Baghdad battlefield, General Petraeus is moving ahead and signs of tentative progress are visible. Shiite death squads are laying low or leaving town, so casualties are down. The new oil law looks like a political breakthrough that would share revenues with all parts of Iraq based on population. Success isn't certain, but the Democratic Congress's only contribution is to make victory more difficult.