If we accept scientific estimates of the Iraqi death toll since the U.S. invasion of that country, as detailed in the British medical journal The Lancet, then it is fair to say that an Iraqi dies from violence or deprivation every ten minutes. An American dies every ten hours. And, every ten days, significantly more than a billion dollars from the U.S. treasury is spent maintaining the occupation — not on helping veterans, not on assisting in the reconstruction of Iraq, but on continuing the physical occupation of a country where polling and circumstances on the ground indicate that the people do not favor the continued presence of foreign forces.

There are those who suggest that America has time to wait before we begin bringing our troops home from Iraq. House Democratic leaders on Thursday proposed legislation that would set benchmarks for progress in Iraq. If those benchmarks remain unmet, a slow process of extracting troops would begin under the plan favored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; Wisconsin’s David Obey and Pennsylvania’s John Murtha, the chair and defense subcommittee chair respectively of the appropriations committee; and Missouri’s Ike Skelton, who chairs the armed services committee.

The fact that Democratic leaders are talking about attempting to impose a timeline for withdrawal of troops is good. It puts the opposition party in a position of actually opposing an unpopular president’s exceptionally unpopular policies.

Unfortunately, because the president wants to maintain the occupation on his terms, Bush can be counted on to veto legislation establishing benchmarks and a timeline. So the Democrats find themselves in a difficult position. They plan to expend immense time and energy — and perhaps even a small measure of political capital — to promote a withdrawal strategy. Yet, the strategy they are promoting is unlikely to excite Americans who want this war to end.

In other words, while Pelosi and her compatriots propose to fight for a timeline, it is not the right timeline.

Theoretically, the Democratic leadership plan would create the potential for the withdrawal of some U.S. troops in six months. Realistically, because the Democratic plans lacks adequate monitoring mechanisms — even Pelosi says determinations about whether benchmarks are met would be a “a subjective call” — chances are that there would be no withdrawals for more than a year. The Speaker essentially acknowledged as much when, in announcing the plan, she said, “No matter what, by March 2008, the redeployment begins.”

Forcing young Americans and Iraqis to die for George Bush’s delusions for another year, while emptying the treasury at a rate of a billion dollars a week, is not an adequate response to the demands — let alone the realities — of the moment.

“This plan would require us to believe whatever the president would tell us about progress that was being made,” says Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-California, speaking for the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus. “This is same president that led us into a war with false information, no weapons of mass destruction, said we would be (welcomed) with open arms, said that the mission had been accomplished. Now we expect him to give us a progress report in their plan by July?”

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-California, says of the legislation. “There’s no enforcement mechanism. We have had the same thing in place for two years and [now] we’re expecting [Bush] to do something…?”

Woolsey’s question begs another question: Why? Why are Democrats, who just wasted weeks arguing about non-binding resolutions regarding Bush’s surge of 21,5OO more troops into Iraq, now preparing to pour their energy into fighting for what appears to be another vague and inadequate proposal?

Rather than try to answer that one, perhaps it is best to note that Peace Action and other anti-war groups are launching a massive, rolling call-in campaign leading up to the vote on President Bush’s request for another $93 billion to fund his approach to the war. Peace Action is asking Americans to tell their representatives to stand with Woolsey, who recently said “the only money I will support for Iraq is funding that is used for the withdrawal of every last US soldier and military contractor from Iraq.”


John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”