Saturday, September 1, 2007

Reid offers an olive branch to anti-war Republicans

Accepting the contentious nature of the debate ahead over the approaching weeks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has acquiesced on the “date certain” provision of upcoming legislation in an effort to build an alliance with a small-but-growing contingent of anti-war Republican lawmakers in an effort to find ways to draw down the occupation of Iraq. .

He acknowledged that his previous insistence on a withdrawal deadline had presented an insurmountable obstacle for many Republicans who have said they oppose continued involvement but who were unwilling to commit to timetables.

"I don't think we have to think that our way is the only way," Reid said of specific dates during an interview in his office here. "I'm not saying, 'Republicans, do what we want to do.' Just give me something that you think you would like to do, that accomplishes some or all of what I want to do."

Reid's unwavering stance this summer earned him critics who said he was playing politics by refusing to bargain with antiwar Republicans. In the interview, he said that his goal remains an immediate return of U.S. troops but that now is the time to work with the GOP. He cited bringing up legislation after Labor Day that would require troops to have more home leave, forcing military leaders to reduce troop levels, a measure that has drawn some Republican support.

On September 4, Congress returns from the August recess, facing an angry electorate and a desperate executive. The coming week will see the congress take the initiative on the assessment of the situation in Iraq by opening hearings into a GAO report that will be released Tuesday, and by taking up the issues raised by the report of another Blue Ribbon panel. The following week, Petraeus will bring his particularly insidious brand of spin to the Hill, where he will appeal for more time, blood and treasure to pour into the sand of Iraq.

After the Parade of the Viziers is done, and the Resident makes his own report, the debate will begin anew.

That debate screeched to a halt after the fake filibuster in July. All that stunt managed to do was piss everyone off, Republican and Democrat alike. The Republicans successfully blocked the withdrawal measure, because the advocates for withdrawal were unable to reach cloture and pass the legislation with only four Republican votes.

Reid wisely dropped the war debate after that, and attempted to shift the focus to the obstructionism of the Republicans.

This tactic gave the White House a toehold, and they set about building the case that the ridiculously-named “Surge™” strategy is working, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

"I don't think we had any choice," Reid said, shrugging off past skirmishes. "I have no regrets about the way that I have tried to marshal the troops. It's been hard to keep all the Democrats together, but we've done that."

But looking forward, Reid said he will encourage new coalitions to develop, with a more bipartisan hue. "There is no reason that this be Democrat versus Republican," he said. But his GOP colleagues, he added, must be willing to stand up to Bush, as few have so far. "All these people saying September is here, September is the time -- they're going to have belly up to the bar and decide how to vote," Reid said.

Sen. Jack Reed, a close senate ally of Harry Reid on Iraq policy was circumspect. He noted that with every shift in the Iraq debate, "we've picked up more votes." But he quickly added that meeting the Democrats' ultimate goal of ending the war, well, "There's only so many things you can do."

One of the pieces of failed legislation that Reid will dust off will be the proposal by Sen. James Webb that would mandate that troops deployed to a combat zone get an equal or greater amount of dwell time after their rotation before being redeployed back to combat. This would not set withdrawal dates, but it would effectively curtail troop levels. When the issue came up for a vote earlier in the summer, it received 56 yes votes, but, again, obstructionist Republicans had invoked cloture, which requires 60 votes. Worth noting: Seven Republicans voted yes on the proposal last time, and Senator Johnson is returning to the Senate in September.

The month of September appears to be shaping up to be everything it was billed and more. It seems like every one of 535 congresscritters went to Iraq this month. It wasn’t all of 'em, of course, but it was eight sold out shows a week all month long in every house. Some fell victim to the Green Zone Fog.

Also worth considering is legislation offered by Senators Ken Salazar and Lamar Alexander that would make the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group into official U.S. policy. The ISG, which was mostly ignored by the Bush administration, included defining specific roles for combat forces and far greater diplomatic initiatives, especially diplomatic initiatives involving the neighboring states. Under the Salazar/ISG legislation, if progress failed to occur, withdrawal would begin early next year. The Salazar-Alexander Bill has attracted 12 additional co-sponsors, at least half of them Republicans. "I respect that some Democrats want us out tomorrow, and some Republicans want a victory like Germany and Japan, but that's not going to happen," Alexander said. But he warned that, given the onset of the 2008 presidential campaign season, "September may be our last best chance" to force a legislative solution.

Re-election season is indeed upon us. All 435 house seats and 34 Senate seats are up this election cycle, and every last one of them will have to answer tough questions about Iraq, posed by an angry electorate. Brian Baird found out just how popular war support is at home. The bloodletting for 2008 is going to commence early. We only thought 2006 was contentious - 2008 is going to be absolutely brutal. It certainly isn't going to be politics for the faint of heart. I hope they are rested up, because the days on the other side of the weekend are going to be grueling (I myself have been on a training regimen for weeks in preparation).