The pressure of antiwar public opinion going into the fall congressional elections was clear last week as Republican strategists tried to sidetrack Iraq withdrawal calls by newly emboldened Democrats.
In the latest move, administration officials leaked a classified briefing by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, floating the possibility of pulling about 7,000 troops out in September, and another 21,000 by December 2007. The “plan,” reported in The New York Times June 25, is filled with qualifications and contains no end date for pulling all troops out. The projected 7,000 is less than 6 percent of the 127,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. According to the Times, officials called the 2007 withdrawals “more of a forecast of what may be possible … than a hard timeline.” Even if all 28,000 were withdrawn by the end of next year — a highly uncertain prospect — that would leave some 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq with no end in sight.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) commented, “What remains to be seen is whether they will create a plan with real benchmarks, or a cynical cosmetic drawdown of troops, designed to minimize the impact of Bush’s unpopular war at the polls in November.”
“The truth is that the Iraqi people and the American people understand that an open-ended military commitment in Iraq is in nobody’s interest,” Lee said in a June 27 statement. “I believe we need clear benchmarks, a short, precise timetable, and an assurance that when U.S. troops come home, they all come home, meaning no permanent bases.”
The Bush administration has strenuously resisted any timetable for pulling the troops out and any restrictions on a long-term military presence in Iraq.
Congressional Republicans removed from the Iraq “emergency” funding bill amendments sponsored by Lee and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Md.) barring permanent U.S. bases there. The Republicans allowed the amendments to pass on a voice vote, so they could not be accused of favoring permanent occupation, and then quietly killed them. They are likely to do the same for Biden’s 2007 defense appropriations bill no-permanent-bases amendment, which passed in a Senate voice vote June 22.
The U.S. applied intense pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki to drop a withdrawal timetable call from his new national reconciliation plan. However, Iraqi public opinion and political parties across the political spectrum have called for a clear withdrawal timetable.
The Casey report is widely seen as a crass White House-orchestrated election ploy. Just days earlier congressional Republicans had hurled accusations of defeatism and “cutting and running” as they blocked Democrats’ calls for troop withdrawal.
Republicans have “repeatedly and loudly” rejected these proposals, “using arguments that have now been exposed as false,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Yet the Bush administration is proceeding with planning reductions in our military presence in Iraq immediately before the midterm elections. When it comes to Iraq, the only schedule that matters to Republicans is the U.S. election schedule.”
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), called it an indication of one of the “worst-kept secrets in town” — that the administration wants to pull out troops before the November elections “and the president will then claim some kind of progress or victory.”
“It shouldn’t be a political decision, but it is going to be with this administration,” Levin said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Observers say the weight of the nation’s progressive and peace forces has created a new political dynamic. When the Senate GOP leadership staged a tightly controlled debate on Iraq a week earlier, Democrats, spurred by mounting public opposition to endless occupation, pressed measures calling for specific plans to bring the troops home from Iraq, starting this year. An amendment introduced by Sens. John Kerry (Mass.), Russ Feingold (Wis.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) set an end date of July 1, 2007. Six other Senate Democrats introduced an amendment calling for beginning withdrawal this year and for Bush to submit a plan by the end of this year with dates for continued pullout next year. House Democrats have introduced several withdrawal initiatives, all of which have been blocked by the Republicans.
A USA Today/Gallup Poll taken June 24-25 shows most Americans want Congress to pass a resolution that includes a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Half of those surveyed would like all U.S. forces out within 12 months.