The Senate Debate on the Webb Amendment

Final Vote… Lose 56-44. Lost Warner, picked up Johnson, but no new GOPers. I guess Bush succeeded in convincing enough Republicans that the surge was working and that was enough to continue the policy. The next battle is the $50 billion supplemental — we’ll see if the Dems roll over or play hardball.

Levin just announced that the vote will begin at 5:25PM (EDT).

NOTE: Jim Webb just put a fact sheet into the record regarding his amendment — it is on his website as a pdf file so I thought I would link to it HERE

UPDATE (3:25PM): Now Joe Lieberman (CT-Lieberman) is using the same argument — at least a vote for a deadline or to cut off funds is an honest vote to end the war — this is a backdoor way to undermine Petreaus. He then claims that he admires those who will at least debate it directly — then says that they don’t do that because there isn’t the support in teh chamber for withdrawal. But there is support— just not super-majority support. Joe now says this will force them (the soldiers) into a position where they fail. He says most of the soldiers he talks to are proud of their mission and believe in their mission — he claims they are reenlisting at remarkable number. “Do you really want to burden them and their families in a way we can never make up for? Then go on this path of defeat.” OK this is ridiculous — which is the worse burden I would like to know– having their spouse in Iraq for 15 months and only home for 10, or letting them stay longer in that dangerous theater of battle? The rhetoric of Iraq War supporters is insane in its Soviet-like logic.

UPDATE (3:03PM): Do the Republicans just read off the smae talking points every time? Jim Bunning (R-KY) has a difficult time making sense under normal circumstances, but again he says that this amendment’s intent is to undermine Petreaus. He warns us that it is dangerous to send troops into the field without the resources they need to get the job done — In other words the previous four years of a lack of proper armor for the troops, and less safe vehicles and other resources to protect our troops, were dangerous — oh but those aren’t the kind of resources Bunning was talking about.

UPDATE (2:40PM): Jon Kyl (R-AZ) I think just argued that the U.S. soldiers who train the Iraqi troops need to stay longer and be in the theater more so that they can “fight as one.” Wait — aren’t the Iraqi troops supposed to be trained so they can Stand Up as U.S. troops Stand Down?

After the usual claptrap from Kit Bond (R-MO) who decried that political gamesmanship of the Democrats on this amendment (stating that this is obviously a backdoor way to undermine the military), Jim Webb has taken to the floor to explain the actual training that is needed for individual troops and what they most go through when they return to the USA after being in Iraq and Afghanistan, going month-by-month. One nice aspect to the way Webb debates is that he almost always focuses on facts and rarely rises to general political rhetoric, giving him an air of legitimacy others do not have (on both sides).


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Jim Webb vs Lindsey Graham

The Webb-Hagel Amendment will be voted on this afternoon as part of the Defense Authorization bill, but due to the fact that the Republicans are filibustering basically every substantive Democratic amendment that could actually have an impact, it will be necessary for Jim Webb (D-VA) to get 60 votes for his proposal.  His amendment, which received 56 votes earlier this summer — four short of overcoming the filibuster — requires that any troops get a stay at home at least equal to the length of their tour of duty in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  A small change from the amendment this summer, he has added a provision to let the policy start 120 days after enactment in order to let the generals in charge make the necessary planning changes.

Realizing that this could be the one that could get over the 60 vote hump, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has offered a toothless alternative that states it is the “Sense of the Senate” that a month home for every month away policy for troops is the preferable policy, but having absolutely no enforcement mechanism.  This is exactly the type of strategy that the Republicans love to use — have a fake vote that gives them cover, but defeat the substantive policy that actually would accomplish something.

Graham and John McCain (R-AZ) as well as other Republican Senators have argued against the Webb amendment because: 1) It is interfering (“meddling”) with the military leaders ability to make strategic decisions in the field, 2) It is micro-managing a war that is not in the proper role of congress, with McCain even claiming that it is probably an unconstitutional act, and 3) It will lessen the ability of the military to do what it needs to do on the ground to win, and thus put the people who are in the combat theater in greater danger.

Webb countered in a short speech on the floor, stating that a similar situation occurred during the Korean War and that Congress stepped in and demanded appropriate training for U.S. soldiers when military leaders wanted to get them into the field before the usual training had been completed.

While John Warner (R-VA) took to the Senate floor and acknowledged the benefits of the Webb amendment and the positive intent of its author, he stated that he will oppose it due to the fact that his discussions with military leaders have made it clear to him that they couldn’t be able to properly transition to such a policy for about a year, even if ordered, without inhibiting their needs.

This is the amendment that will demonstrate whether there is any real dent in the Republicans’ obstructionist strategy on the floor of the Senate.  The critical element will be whether Webb and Hagel can overcome the knee-jerk war supporters like Graham and be able to gain votes, despite the cover of the worthless amendment that he offers as so-called political cover. This vote will determine the top number of Republicans who can be counted on to assist in a change in direction in Iraq.  If Webb doesn’t get 60 votes, then it is unlikely that any real change will be allowed by the 40 or so Republicans preventing any real change in policy.

The question for those Republicans who vote against the Webb amendment is:  What is more important to you — the President and the war planners, or the troops on the ground?  Are you really supporting the troops if all you do is talk about how great a job they are doing and how we should continue this failed policy? Or would a policy that would at least slightly lessen the burden on their families, their psyches, their finances and their health.  All members acknowledged that the “ideal” situation would be to give every soldier or marine a month home for a month in the war, but for some reason they must continue to be pawns in this fiasco, as politicians who insist that “Victory is the only strategy” and praise the troops that, in the last analysis, are being abused.

I don’t know how they sleep at night — but if they vote against Webb this afternoon, they certainly can’t say they support the troops. 

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CQ’s Five Realities in Iraq Policy

Congressional Quarterly’s CQ Weekly has a “Reality Check” When it comes to Iraq policy that is good at focusing on the critical elements that are shaping the Iraq debate.  Since CQ Weekly is a subscription service, I have summarized the Five Realities:

  1. The Reports coming out this month will change few positions – Members of Congress will see what they want to see in the reports.  Republicans will focus on the progress that the reports explain, while Democrats will point to the shortfalls of U.S. Iraqi operations.
  2. Bush still has the upper hand in foreign policy – Bush is still Commander in Chief and he still has the power of the veto.  In the Senate the Republicans are able to filibuster any bills that run counter to the President’s goals.  The Democrats do not want to be viewed as abandoning the troops, so they do not want to take a hard line on spending for Iraq and Defense.  Even if the Democrats work with Republicans to meet the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, a veto by Bush would still be upheld without 67 votes.
  3. It’s not just the numbers, it’s the mission – The troop levels will remain the same for the next few months in order to carry out the mission associated with the surge.  Troops will have to begin to be drawn down next spring because the current troop levels are unsustainable if troop deployments are not extended past the current 15 months. The debate next year will be over the number of troops that remain after the next draw down.
  4. Maliki may be weak, but a strong central government still matters – The reason given for the surge in the number of U.S. troops was to give the Maliki government the breathing space that they need to complete the necessary political step to stabilize Iraq.  Maliki’s failure in using this time to get the Iraqi parliament to pass critical legislation and to take essential steps in solidifying the government’s role has been one of the biggest failures of the surge.
  5. Of all Iraq’s neighbors, Iran is most critical to Iraq’s successful stabilization – If the Maliki government fails, then tribes may turn to other sponsors for money and support.  While Saudi Arabia and Syria would have a role to play, it is the standoff between the U.S. and Iran that is preventing a region-wide conference and potential broad solutions from being debated and implemented.

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Pentagon Playing with Iraqi Casualty Numbers

With the impetus to show that the troop surge is indeed working, it is not surprising that the Defense Department is going to define success to make the tactic look successful.  What is unusual is that they have revised past casualty numbers so as to make current numbers look better.

Shifting Death Counts

Quarterly Defense Department reports released in March and June provided significantly different counts of sectarian killings in the second half of 2006. The discrepancy is one example of how shifting statistics paint pictures of progress in Iraq.

Shifting Death Counts

Among the most worrisome trends cited by the NIE was escalating warfare between rival Shiite militias in southern Iraq that has consumed the port city of Basra and resulted last month in the assassination of two southern provincial governors. According to a spokesman for the Baghdad headquarters of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), those attacks are not included in the military’s statistics. “Given a lack of capability to accurately track Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence, except in certain instances,” the spokesman said, “we do not track this data to any significant degree.”

Attacks by U.S.-allied Sunni tribesmen — recruited to battle Iraqis allied with al-Qaeda — are also excluded from the U.S. military’s calculation of violence levels…

So Patraeus is going to report a 75% drop in sectarian attacks, but is using 1) Revised data (as can be seen inheha above) that make the months before the surge appear to be more violent than in earlier reports, and 2) He is not doing a year-to-year comparison, but is rather comparing attacks to a revised December number that was one of the worst months of the occupation in terms of violence.  When you get to create your own data and your own standards, then it sure is easier to get the results that you want.

This does not make me any more optimistic about the accuracy of General Patraeus’ report to Congress next week.

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Emanuel on Bush Comments: Come to Grips with Reality

House Democratic Caucus Leader gets a lot of criticism from progressives for his handling of progressive candidates while Chairman of the DCCC, but he is also a very smart guy and knows how to frame a debate.  After Bush’s comments in Australia praising the Iraq Parliament at the expense of the U.S. Congress, Emanuel sent off this missive to Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten:

September 5, 2007

Dear Mr. Bolten:

It has long been the custom that members of Congress do not go overseas and criticize the President—that partisanship ends at the water’s edge. But reading today’s accounts of the President’s remarks in Australia, it is clear he has a different view.

Asked about the lack of political progress in Iraq, the President said Iraq’s Parliament had passed 60 laws, and added, “It’s more than our legislature passed.”

It was a false and gratuitous shot, which ignores the scores of laws we have passed, sometimes over the President’s strong objection, to promote economic fairness for America’s struggling middle class. >From passing a long-awaited increase in the minimum wage to an historic reform of the student loan and grant program so millions more young people can achieve the dream of college, our Congress is offering new hope to the American people. We can debate these accomplishments at another time on another day.

But as a veteran of the political wars, I am not concerned about the slight as much as I am about the President’s spirited defense of the status quo in Iraq.

The truth is, the Iraqi Parliament has made virtually no progress on any of the major issues that must be resolved to end the civil war there. Their most noteworthy agreement was a resolution to adjourn for summer vacation, while our troops toiled in 115 degree heat to try and halt the bloodshed.

It is the same stubborn defiance of the truth that has marked his stewardship of this four and half year war. And the truth is this:

The valiant efforts of our troops cannot and will not substitute for real, determined steps on the part of the Iraqis to resolve the issues at the heart of their civil war.

So I am not asking for an apology. Like most Americans, I am merely asking the President to finally come to grips with the reality of the failures of the Iraqi leadership and the shortcomings of his own Iraqi policy.

We do not need cheap shots or photo ops. We need a change in policy to relieve our troops and put the Iraqis on notice that it’s long past time for them to take responsibility for their own future.


Rahm Emanuel

Member of Congress

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U.S. Casualties in Iraq as of 8/29/2007


Table 1. Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. Fatalities and Wounded as of August 29, 2007, 10 a.m. EST


March 19, 2003, to the Present

May 1, 2003, to the Present


March 19, 2003, to the Present










In actiona

 Not Returned to Duty —


 12,429 —

Source:DOD press releases.



Includes the “Not Returned to Duty” figure.

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Updated GAO Grades on Iraqi Benchmarks

The only changes from the draft report leaked last week is that two items (9 and 12) were changed from “Unsatisfactory” to “Mixed Progress.”  These are: 9. Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations, and 12. Ensuring Iraqi security forces are providing even-handed law enforcement.  GAO Comptroller General, David Walker, explained before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he had determined ahead of time that one benchmark grade should be changed, and the other was changed after new information was provided by  the Pentagon.  Overall the report retains its critical analysis as contained in last week’s draft. 

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