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Democrats rally around war plan
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


March 13, 2007
Tuesday AM

Democrats are beginning to rally around a broad plan for addressing the war in Iraq, thus filling an awkward gap in their political agenda, namely that they didn't have one.

The Senate and House plans vary in detail but both would set dates for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, far enough off to give President Bush's surge a chance to work but before the presidential election so that the party won't have to face the voters having done nothing about an unpopular war.

The House plan, which would be attached to a $100 billion funding bill for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, would begin pulling combat troops out in March 2008, and have them all gone by that September.

The Senate plan, in the form of a joint resolution, would begin the withdrawal sooner and have most out by March 31, 2008.

Both would allow some U.S. forces to stay behind to train Iraqi troops, conduct counterterrorism missions and protect the U.S. diplomatic mission.

Either measure faces a difficult road to passage, especially in the Senate where the Republicans have enough votes to filibuster the measure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also faces the task of holding her Democrats together, especially the antiwar wing that wants to pull the plug on the war immediately. And in the unlikely, but still possible, event a bill does pass, President Bush is pledged to veto it.

Still, this is the first concrete expression of congressional disapproval of the war, and even if it ultimately comes to nothing, the president is on notice that he has a finite time to begin showing progress in Iraq. And an emboldened Democratic Congress will surely try again.

In effect, Bush has a window lasting maybe through the fall to begin turning Iraq around, a state of affairs that the Pentagon seemed to recognize when it allowed that the surge will be bigger, longer and more expensive than planned.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already said that if the surge produces results he could begin drawing combat troops down in the fall. In truth, if the surge is not working by then, it's not going to work period.

If the surge does produce demonstrable, verifiable results - and not the sort of "progress" reported by Bush loyalists on quick in-and-out visits to the heavily fortified Green Zone - then the Democrats can, and should, rethink their war plan. In the meantime, the plan may do some good whether it passes or not. U.S, ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad said the plan may help negotiations there because, "It does send a message to the Iraqis that the patience of the American people is running out and that is helpful to my diplomacy."

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