IN JANUARY, President Bush announced the start of a "surge" that wasn't really a surge. Now the House and Senate have responded with a "withdrawal" that isn't really a withdrawal.
Last week, the House passed a bill that many believe would set hard deadlines for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. This week, the Senate followed suit. The House bill would require that troop withdrawals start immediately if the president cannot certify that Iraq or the United States are meeting benchmarks in the war. The withdrawal would have to be completed within 180 days. Even if the United States and Iraq are successful in reducing violence, the bill requires the United States to start a withdrawal by March 2008 and complete it by that August. The Senate bill requires a withdrawal to be complete by March 2008. Supporters of both bills claim they are forcing a withdrawal from Iraq, but a look at the fine print reveals otherwise.
First, to reverse the current surge the House bill requires the president to certify that every Army unit deploying to Iraq for a year-long tour of duty have a minimum of 365 days back home before deployment. (Marine units that deploy for seven months would have 210 days back home.) In addition, units in Iraq could not be extended beyond their one year (or seven months) assignment. This might be an effective way to halt the surge, except for the fact that the bill also allows the president to waive these restrictions in the interest of "national security." It's likely that the president already believes that he is acting in the interest of national security, making these restrictions superfluous.
Although the House and Senate bills set clear timelines for withdrawal of US troops, they also permit some troops to remain in Iraq as long as they are performing one of three specific missions: protecting US facilities, citizens, or forces; combating Al Qaeda or international terrorists; and training Iraqi security forces. How many troops are we talking about? Potentially as many as have been there for the past three years.