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Published: Saturday, 4/28/2007

Congressional line in the sand

IT'S certain that the emergency war spending bill passed by Congress, including deadlines for troop withdrawals, is indeed "dead before arrival," as the President's press secretary described it.

President Bush has emphatically vowed to veto any funding legislation for the war that comes with "strings attached," as he puts it. But the defiant move by the legislative branch of government to reassert itself and attempt to force change in the administration's Iraq war policy is a powerful one nonetheless that reflects the will of most Americans.

It is totally reasonable for the country to expect some return on its increasingly risky investment in Iraq. The loss of lives, resources, and standing in the Middle East to sustain a failed strategy and ambiguous mission in Baghdad has cost the country dearly.

What the Democratic-controlled House and Senate have done by attaching conditions to a $124 billion measure is to interject accountability into the Bush Administration's handling of a war now in its fifth year.

For too long Congress has acted as if it were a subsidiary of the executive branch, giving the President blank checks and unchallenged authority to surge ahead blindly in Baghdad, escalating the U.S. military commitment in Iraq with nothing to show for it. The point of the first binding congressional challenge to the President is for the White House to show something for the escalating casualties and nearly trillion-dollar cost of occupying Iraq.

Unless the Iraqi government demonstrates a willingness to meet certain standards outlined in the spending bill, including disarming militias, amending the constitution, and dividing oil revenues equitably among the country's ethnic and sectarian factions, American troop withdrawals would begin July 1 with a completion date of Dec. 27.

Democrats, said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, "continue to believe that the only way to change the course in Iraq is to pressure the Iraqi leaders to reach a political settlement."

If the Bush Administration can demonstrate that actual progress is being made by the Iraqis, the withdrawal would not begin until Oct. 1, with pullout by March 28. But no longer would U.S. forces be kept in harm's way indefinitely while a full blown civil war rages on in Iraq.

A majority of Americans want their soldiers out of Iraq if all they're doing is dodging suicide bombers, roadside explosives, and a blend of faceless enemies set on killing each other.

The President calls that position "defeatism;" most Americans recognize it as the harsh reality of futile nation-building. With a promised presidential veto, Mr. Bush may once again succeed in getting his way with Congress, but the sparring is not over.

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