The US House of Representatives has apparently decided to challenge President Bush head-on about the length of the Iraq War. House Democrats today unveiled legislation designed to bring all US combat troops in Iraq home by the fall of 2008, at the latest. If the Iraqi government does not meet certain specified benchmarks of progress, troops would be withdrawn earlier. The bill would require President Bush to certify by July 1 and October 1 that the Iraq government is making satisfactory progress in providing security for the country, distributing oil revenues, and improving the method by which the constitution can be amended; if President Bush in unable to certify progress, all US combat troops would be withdrawn in six months. Assuming progress is made, troop would begin leaving Iraq in March 2008 and all combat soldiers would be back by September. The bill also requires the Pentagon to enforce its standards for training and equipping all troops being sent into Iraq, but allows Bush to issue waivers of the requirements (the intent is to force the president into publicly admitting that the troops are lacking equipment and training).
It is not entirely clear that the bill will pass the House. Nearly every Republican is likely to oppose it, and several Democrats have already spoken out against the bill. If it does pass, however, President Bush would face a difficult decision of whether to veto, as it will contain an extra $1.2 billion for the war in Afghanistan and $3.5 billion more for veterans' care and health care for active troops.
If the bill passes, the most likely outcome is that President Bush would not veto it, and instead simply ignore its dictates. The bill is of highly dubious constitutionality, as it smacks of the sort of micro-managing the US military that is off-limits to Congress. Congress' war powers do not extend to telling the president how many troops he may deploy to a combat zone. Congress could deny funding to the president for combat operations in Iraq, which would force the withdrawal of troops. But the president is the commander-in-chief of the US military, and only the commander-in-chief can make decisions about troop levels. The standards for training and equipment sound like they would fall under Congress' power to make rules for the regulation of the armed forces, but Congress has yielded such specific rule-making to the Department of Defense; any interference now without a statutory change would be unconstitutional.
This move by Congress will not succeed at bringing the boys home. If Congress really wants to end the war, it will have to step up, cut off the funding, and accept responsibility for the outcome. Anything else is merely spineless posturing.