The Senate is debating whether to debate — in its characteristically deliberative manner — on a nonbinding resolution to disapprove of what the stubborn man in the White House has said he wants to do in Iraq.
The Republicans delayed consideration for a while, but the Democratic majority might come up with a way to move a resolution forward. The House is expected to consider a resolution next week.
It’s all rather typical politics as usual. While a nonbinding resolution of disapproval of the president would be a significant symbolic gesture, it would be little more than that.
It’s difficult not to notice that most senators are busy positioning themselves vis-à-vis the 2008 elections. Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd and Joseph Biden and Republican John McCain have declared for the presidency or declared an interest. Republicans Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, John Warner, Norm Coleman and Gordon Smith face re-election races in states where voters are skeptical of the Iraq war.
What is tragic — but also rather typical — is the discussion in Washington is proceeding in virtually complete isolation from any serious knowledge or consideration of what is taking place in Baghdad.
Events of the past few days suggest the situation is deteriorating, with new brutal bombings. Sunni insurgents seem determined to kill as many Shia as possible before the president’s additional “surge” troops show up.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged that Iraqi troops are showing up for duty in Baghdad (presumably the key to the new strategy) at about 55 percent strength.
Neither side in the resolution debate seems to have absorbed the implications of the portions of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that were released publicly Feb. 2. This estimate, the product of five months of work, reflecting the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, paints a bleaker picture of conditions in Iraq than all but a few public officials have acknowledged — but doesn’t quite constitute an argument for immediate withdrawal.
Things are so bad in Iraq, according to this estimate, due to the weakness of the government and “all sides’ ready recourse to violence,” that “unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006.”
The estimate does not address the “surge” specifically, at least in the summary released to the public, but it does say that “if Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly … we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict.”
The politicos have gone back and forth over whether to use the term “civil war,” but the estimate says “the term ‘civil war’ does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq.”
Compared to what’s going on in Iraq now, a civil war would be relatively easy to handle.
The only hope seems to be a political reconciliation in Iraq, with Sunnis, Shia and Kurds all giving a little. But that seems unlikely, the intelligence community believes.
We think it would be more likely, though far from certain, if all sides knew the Americans were leaving soon.
Congress might pass a symbolic resolution or not. It would be more useful if it conducted oversight hearings to get an idea whether the executive branch has acknowledged reality and is finally basing plans on it.