This past weekend, Speaker of the House and six-time grandmother, Nancy Pelosi, traveled to Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to get a personal view of George Bush's "war" on terrorism. Judging from her initial comments, the trip hardened Pelosi's opposition to Bush's escalation of the war in Iraq. So, what should we expect the Pelosi-led Dems to do about Iraq?
Five Democrats-Representatives Lantos, Lowey, Murtha, Reyes, and Skelton-and one Republican, Representative Dave Hobson, accompanied Speaker Pelosi on her brief trip. Most are involved in the House of Representatives Appropriation process and, therefore, would be important players in any move to restrict funding for Bush's folly.
In her statements at the conclusion of the trip, Speaker Pelosi didn't address reducing funds for the war in Iraq. She explained her purpose "was to salute our troops and commend them for their patriotism, their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of their families." After meeting with US troops at the base at Bagram, Afghanistan, Pelosi remarked: "We owe them better policy. We owe them better initiatives... I believe redeployment of our troops is a step toward stability in the region." Her choice of words is significant, because "redeployment" suggests a different scenario than "withdrawal," a middle ground between "stay the course" and "get out."
On February 1st, House Democrats begin a four-day retreat. It's a safe bet that Madame Speaker has some ideas about what Dems should do beyond passing a "sense of the House" resolution opposing Bush's latest escalation. The fact that her trip included Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, is an indication that Democrats plan to attack Bush Administration foreign policy on a broad front.
Afghanistan: Democrats characterized the plight of allied forces in Afghanistan as "the forgotten war." After meeting with Afghani President Hamid Karzai, Pelosi expressed support for additional US forces for Afghanistan and endorsed the Bush Administration request for $10.6 billion in assistance. She believes the White House has mismanaged the "war" against terrorism. It's likely that House Dems will argue that US troops should be pulled out of Iraq and sent to Afghanistan and other venues threatened by terrorists.
Pakistan: On January 12th, John Negroponte, outgoing National Intelligence Director, told Congress that Al Qaeda is "cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan." Democrats proposed a bill linking Pakistan Military aid to success combating Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border; if the bill becomes law, President Bush would have to certify that Pakistan was doing its best to combat terrorists.
Iran: Pelosi's brief trip did not include a stop over in Teheran, but it's a safe bet that Iran was a topic of conversation during the long plane flight. On January 19th, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a joint new conference. Speaking for both of them, Reid made it clear: "The president does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking Congressional authorization-a the current use of force resolution for Iraq does not give him such authorization." Democrats favor a diplomatic solution to the nuclear confrontation with Iran, one of the key differences between the Bush Administration and Congressional Democrats. In his response to the President's State-of-the-Union address, Senator Jim Webb called for "an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy."
Iraq: The immediate aftermath of the Pelosi trip suggests that Democrats who want House Democrats to vote for an immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq are going to be disappointed. Webb did not call for an immediate withdrawal and it's unlikely that Speaker Pelosi, or anyone in her traveling group, will support such a plan. They will seek to define a middle ground, what Senator Webb referred to as: "a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But... a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq." In other words: Recognition that there's a civil war in Iraq. Policy that follows the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group: increased diplomatic efforts, pressure on the Iraqi government for a political solution, and a shift in US military strategy from providing security to training Iraqis to do the job.
Pelosi's plan will gradually reduce the need for American troops in Iraq. However, it won't necessarily bring them home. Many will be needed in Afghanistan and Pakistan to finish the bungled campaign against terrorism.
What Democrats propose is not the quick end to the war that many Americans envisage. But, as compared to the collage of tired rhetoric and wishful thinking proffered by the White House, it is a plan.
Americans are hungry for leadership. Many who trusted Generalissimo George Bush transferred their allegiance to grandma Nancy Pelosi. This is an opportunity for her to not only present a way out of Iraq, but also a realistic campaign against terrorism that features economic initiatives and protection of human rights. A campaign whose underlying slogan is: in grandma we trust.