Former Iraqi commander says bring the troops home
The Senate remains deeply divided over whether to give President Bush all the money he wants — without limitations — for continuing the war in Iraq, as two opposing war funding measures failed to pass Friday morning.
Republicans had the first crack at the latest war funding bill, as they offered a $70 billion “bridge fund” that had no limitations in terms of troop withdrawal or changing the mission in Iraq. The GOP measure failed 53-45, well short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate. The Democratic bill, which has already passed the House, was backed by a majority of the Senate, but still fell short of the 60 vote threshold, 53-45. Three Republicans backed the Democratic bill, which would require troop withdrawals to begin immediately, but had a soft “target” for a December 2008 completion date for troop withdrawal. The two failed Iraq bills means Congress went home for a two-week Thanksgiving break with continued gridlock over Iraq funding. The massive farm bill, the rest of the appropriations bills and a compromise on the alternative minimum tax also remain stalled heading into December. Both parties are already using the votes for political gain, with Republicans contending Democrats are denying the troops critical funding as they run short on money while Democrats say the troops can have the money as long as President Bush agrees to their limitations on the funds. In truth, neither Iraq bill ever had a chance to pass. Democrats have gambled that over the next few months the Pentagon can find extra money within existing Defense Department accounts to fund the war. “He [Bush] refuses to have any accountability for the money spent in Iraq,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Republicans warn that the Pentagon will have to carry out temporary layoffs or even cancel existing contracts if they have to pull money from non-war accounts to pay for operations in Iraq. “Are we about to deny all those supplies just as the successes of Gen. [David] Petraeus’ plan have become clear?” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), asked in a floor speech. “We should not leave our forces in the field without the funding that they need to accomplish the mission for which they have been deployed.”
There do seem to be openings for negotiations as both sides bicker. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) may have provided a glimpse into the GOP negotiating strategy on spending when he said that if the president gets his money for the war, Republicans may negotiate with Democrats to complete the remaining 11 appropriations bills. Democrats desperately want to complete the domestic spending bills, and Republicans want unencumbered money for the war. On Thursday Reid offered to meet Republicans “halfway” on domestic spending bills by cutting $11 billion from the Democratic proposals. “Fund the troops without strings attached … and well then maybe we can talk about some things,” Kyl said. The next move is up to Democrats, who say they might not bring up any Iraq funding for the remainder of this year. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who supported the Democratic cloture motion on Friday morning, criticized both parties for the stalemate over the Iraq funding bill. “I think we need to move the issue forward, both on the funding question and the policy,” Snowe said. “What message is this sending to America, to our soldiers in Iraq? Why can’t we get this done? I think it’s tragic.”
Bring troops home
Meanwhile, Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq shortly after the fall of Baghdad, said this week he supports the Democratic legislation that calls for most troops to come home within a year. The Pentagon on Tuesday said that as many as 200,000 civilian employees and contractors will begin receiving layoff warnings by Christmas unless Congress approves a war spending bill that President Bush will sign. “The improvements in security produced by the courage and blood of our troops have not been matched by a willingness on the part of Iraqi leaders to make the hard choices necessary to bring peace to their country,” Sanchez said in remarks to be aired Saturday for the weekly Democratic radio address. “There is no evidence that the Iraqis will choose to do so in the near future or that we have an ability to force that result,” he said. Sanchez added that the House bill “makes the proper preparation of our deploying troops a priority and requires the type of shift in their mission that will allow their numbers to be reduced substantially.”
Critical assessments on the war from former Pentagon brass are nothing new. But Sanchez’s newfound alliance with Democrats is particularly noteworthy because he was directly in charge of combat operations in Iraq, from 2003 to 2004. He also is somewhat controversial. The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal happened under his watch, and some have pointed to leadership failures as a contributing factor. While he was not charged with any misconduct, Sanchez said upon retiring from the military in November 2006 that his career was a casualty of Abu Ghraib. In October, the three-star general told a group of reporters that the U.S. mission in Iraq was a “nightmare with no end in sight.” He also called Bush’s decision to deploy 30,000 extra forces to Iraq earlier this year a “desperate attempt” to make up for years of misguided policies in Iraq.