Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Is Feingold/Reid Legislation A Lot of Sound and Fury, Signifiying Nothing?

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Most of the liberal blogosphere has been hailing the Feingold-Reid collaboration on legislation to redeploy U.S. troops in Iraq and cut off war funding by March 31, 2008, as a sign that the Democratic leadership is getting tough with Bush. Weldon Berger is less impressed. In fact, he thinks the legislation is much ado about pretty much nothing:

I think it’s great that congressional Democrats managed to keep their redeployment language in the military appropriations bills they passed this week. It’s a shame that the language won’t actually accomplish anything material even if Bush doesn’t veto the bills.

I’m not talking about the president’s insistence that he isn’t bound by laws he doesn’t like, or suggesting that the administration would find an Iran-Contra style solution to the problem of funding the war — not because I think those paths are off limits, but because they’re unnecessary. Bush may veto the eventual bill out of petulance or on the principle that Congress can’t tell him what to do, assuming that distinction can be made and that the reconciled version retains the redeployment language, but he doesn’t need to.

That’s because the bills don’t specify which troops would have to be withdrawn by sometime next year, presumably because that would constitute “micromanaging” the military; instead, they specify only which troops needn’t be withdrawn. Those include anyone protecting US or coalition personnel and facilities, anyone training Iraqi personnel, anyone engaged in counter-terrorism operations and anyone supporting the troops executing those missions. If I had to guess, I’d say that those activities will turn out to require something in the neighborhood of 130,000 troops, give or take 20%.
Supporters of the legislation will argue that even if it has no near-term impact on the administration’s conduct of the war, it represents the beginning of an incremental process. They’ll say that when the administration flouts this effort, the backlash will make enacting more effectual legislation that much easier.

But it doesn’t, and it won’t. What it may do is bring closer the game of chicken I predicted last year and that a number of people think has already commenced, in which the administration’s plans run up against a funding wall and someone, Congress or the president, has to blink or risk stranding 150,000 troops in Iraq with no money.

But it probably won’t even do that. There are at least a few Senate Democrats who will run away from any legislation that sets actual timetables for withdrawal and imposes actual restrictions on the administration. In the unlikely event that such a bill actually passes and isn’t vetoed, the administration will invoke the claimed privilege of ignoring it. If it is vetoed it won’t be overridden, and if it is overridden the administration will find the money elsewhere. So we might see a Constitutional crisis sometime next year — one that wouldn’t be resolved before the presidential election and would lose meaning afterward — but we won’t be seeing any significant withdrawal of US troops from Iraq before 2009.

The president will probably refrain from vetoing the bill; he’ll just attach a signing statement that negates the already toothless redeployment language, and bet that Democrats won’t impeach him for it. It’s a safe bet. In a way it’s a win for both sides: Bush and Cheney get to keep on keepin’ on and the Democrats [probably] get to exploit the situation at the polls. The only guaranteed losers are the people whose lives are ended or ruined in the meantime.

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