President Bush, desperately trying to tamp down the rising tide of public pressure against the war, is seeking to misframe the Iraq bill he will soon veto.
Realizing he can no longer win the argument about the war itself, he is maligning the bill’s backers as playing politics and risking the safety of our troops. In a speech just delivered, Bush said:
Funding for our forces in Iraq will begin to run out in mid-April. Members of Congress need to stop making political statements [and] start providing vital funds for our troops … If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible.
This makes the eventual bill sound like it will cut off funds for troops already in the field, which it simply does not. It would fund the troops while they are in Iraq, but calls for their redeployment by next year—which only departs from public opinion in that the public wants troops home sooner.
There is no debate between Congress and the White House about funding those already in the field.The debate is over our final goals in Iraq: do we want to permanently occupy Iraq, or do we want a free and sovereign Iraq?
Permanent occupation is a strategy for failure.
Iraqi support for attacks on our troops is directly linked to opposition to permanent bases (which already exist). Belief that such bases will be used to expand the war beyond Iraq’s borders prevents essential regional diplomacy from working.
Both House and Senate versions of the Iraq bill ban funds for permanent bases.
Beyond the flexible timelines for redeployment, such a ban represents a fundamental change in course of our foreign policy goals—away from continued failure.
Troops already in the field should not be hung out to dry. But funding a failed strategy does exactly that.
The debate is not about whether to fund troops in the field. It’s about whether or not we should occupy Iraq forever.
The public is firmly opposed to permanent occupation. And Congress is carrying out the people’s will.
But when Bush vetoes this bill, he will make it crystal clear he does not believe the people decide the direction of our foreign policy. And the American people will know who to hold responsible for a failed foreign policy.