The House Appropriations Committee deliberations on whether to advance an Iraq War spending bill that includes provisions seeking to extract U.S. troops from the conflict by next year points up the challenge faced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the coming week.
Pelosi, who voted against authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq, has been clear about her desire to bring the war to a conclusion. As Pelosi said this week: “Any U.S. military engagement must be judged on three counts — whether it makes our country safer, our military stronger or the region more stable. The war in Iraq fails on all three scores.”
Yet, to Pelosi’s view, the only way to do that is by providing the money for continuance of the war over the course of at least another year. This is a painful political calculation, she says, arguing that the neither the Democratic caucus not the full House is not prepared to back a quick exit strategy.
As Pelosi has said over the years, “There is no one Democratic voice . . . and there is no one Democratic position (on the war).” Members of her own leadership team, including Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House, approved of the war initially and have never been comfortable in the anti-war camp. And, while there are many House Democrats who favor the rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the quagmire, there are a handful of Joe Lieberman-like Democrats who really do want to “stay the course.” And there are many more who are afraid to take responsibility for ending the war because, even though the notion in popular in polling, post-withdrawal realities on the ground in the Middle East could be ugly enough to cause second thoughts on the part of voters.
So, in hopes of initially uniting Democrats and then creating a new center of gravity in the House that might see a significant number of Republicans sign on to a “troops home” measure, Pelosi and two of her closest allies, Appropriations Committee chair David Obey, D-Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee charges with oversight of military spending, have set out to use the spending bill as a tool to reframe the debate about the war.
It is the sort of serious legislative move that gets points from government teachers but that leaves activists cold. And Pelosi has struggled to keep her balance in the face of fierce attacks from the White House and the Republican National Committee for trying to “micromanage” the war – GOP press releases refer to her deridingly as “General Pelosi” – and from progressives who say she is not doing enough to bring the troops home.