Grieving Moms vs. Washington Pols
Every other month, Gold Star mother Teresa Arciola drives from her home in Westchester County, New York, to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, sits on her son’s grave and reads aloud from “Corduroy,” his favorite baby book. Another mother spent winter afternoons in a sleeping bag stretched across her son’s final resting place.
The unspeakable suffering of these parents of dead soldiers stands in marked contrast to the maneuvering over the Iraq War now underway across the river in Washington. There, George W. Bush appears quietly planning another escalation of the Iraq War – possibly doubling U.S. combat troops by Christmas – and many members of Congress are frightened of the political repercussions if they stand up to him.
A possible compromise could come from a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House granting Bush only two months of the additional war spending that he wants, rather than the full amount through the end of September.
At least requiring a second vote sometime in the summer might force serious thinking about alternatives to continuing the war indefinitely and creating many more fresh graves at Arlington Cemetery.
But Senate Democrats – faced with a near-solid phalanx of Republicans standing behind the President – appear eager to run up the white flag, give Bush pretty much whatever he wants, and break for the Memorial Day recess.
The Democrats didn’t help themselves when they started their “negotiations” with the White House by announcing that they would eventually give Bush a bill that was acceptable to him. That’s a bit like going into a car dealership, declaring that you intend to pay the full sticker price and then trying to bargain.
Knowing that the Democrats planned to fold – to avoid accusations that they weren't supporting the troops – Bush could confidently veto the first war spending bill, which had timelines for withdrawing U.S. combat forces, and threaten to veto any other bill that sought to limit his options.
Bush also has pleased some Democrats by dangling suggestions that he is taking a second look at the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations from last December. The ISG, which was headed by Bush family lawyer James Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, urged a drawdown in U.S. troops, a focus on training Iraqis and more regional diplomacy.
Annoyed at the implied criticism of his work as “war president,” Bush shelved the report and declared that U.S. troops would “stay in Iraq to get the job done.” He added, “This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.”
Bush chose a different course. On Jan. 10, he announced a “surge” in U.S. forces, raising troop levels to 160,000 from 140,000. Since then, the administration appears to be inching the numbers even higher while hoping that the creeping escalation doesn’t get much attention.
But the Hearst newspapers disclosed on May 22 that “the Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year,” to 98,000 from 52,500, boosting the total U.S. military presence to 200,000, according to an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders.
“The little-noticed second surge, designed to reinforce U.S. troops in Iraq, is being executed by sending more combat brigades and extending tours of duty for troops already there,” the Hearst newspapers wrote.
With this quiet escalation on the one hand and hints about an ISG-like Plan B on the other, the Bush administration appears to be playing a double game with the goal of securing about $100 billion more in war spending before Congress catches on to the expanded combat plans.
Helping to lull Official Washington into a pre-Memorial Day daydream, administration officials briefed pro-war Washington Post columnist David Ignatius on more peaceful plans for the “post-surge” period.
“The post-surge policy would, in many ways, track the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, which senior administration officials say the President now supports,” Ignatius wrote. [Washington Post, May 22, 2007]
This notion of Bush finally entertaining the ISG recommendations is music to the ears of hopeful Democrats, such as Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman. They seem content with having sent Bush a message about Iraq rather than forcing him to accept an exit strategy.
In the House, however, other Democrats, such as Rep. John Murtha and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have resisted pressure to simply cave in to Bush. They favor, at minimum, putting some strings on the spending bill or keeping its time frame short so Congress would get a second shot at assessing the situation in July or August.
Since the Democrats have set the upcoming Memorial Day recess as the deadline for getting Bush a spending bill that he will sign, the odds favor an impending capitulation rather than an extended impasse. But the Democrats have to worry that they may discover, as they head back home, that Bush is set on escalating the war and that they've been hoodwinked again.
There are some certainties, however, If the Democrats do run up the white flag: Bush and his advisers will enjoy one more high-fiving celebration at the White House; the anti-war Democratic base will be furious; and more mothers can expect to be spending time at Arlington Cemetery.
[For more on the new graves and new grief at Arlington Cemetery, see the Washington Post, May 20, 2007.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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