Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Just for show? Bush invites Dems for Iraq talks

Gridlock was a key word ringing around after the Democrats took both chambers of US Congress last November. Many issues have seen gridlock between Congress and the White House — though the president yields veto power, the Dems have a weak majority and often a lack of will. Iraq is arguably, along with executive power, one of the big issues the Democrats have challenged the president on. It is also a big reason they got elected. The occupation of Iraq recently turned four and American public opinion continues to frown upon the loss of American lives in Iraq — even though the casualties have been relatively few.

American President George Bush offered a meeting on Iraq to members of both parties in Congress. If the Democrats wouldn’t have declined (see below), such a meeting would take place at the White House and would include discussion on the deadlock between Congress and the Bush administration over Iraq policy, specifically US troop pull-out and funding. If this is anything like offers of previous dialog, the discussion would be one-sided. The Bush White House hates any calls contrary to its policy, and doesn’t do well listening to other opinions, even those of experts. They often disregard fact too.

The problem, for the Dems at least, lies in the politics of perception. The White House will accuse the Democrats of being closed and not open to resolving the war between the executive and legislature over Iraq. The Democrats are already facing enough problems: they are split on troop pullout, and their limit on funding in order to instigate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq could greatly backfire and make them look like they are not 'supporting the troops' — which is ridiculous, but is being used well by their political opponents. The anti-Iraq war side accuses the Dems of being soft. That group should not expect results anyways: the president will certainly veto the Congressional bills calling for pullout.

Bush wants control of the debate, and although the Dems are resisting a debate on his terms, it may come back to bite them.

President Bush invited congressional leaders of both parties to the White House next week to talk about legislation to pay for the war in Iraq, but Democrats promptly dismissed his offer because it carried a condition that Congress drop a timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq.

"The clock is ticking for our troops in the field," Bush told an American Legion post in this suburb about 20 miles west of the White House. Without quick action by Congress, he said, the military would within months be forced to redirect funds from training and repair work to pay for the war.

The president also complained that the separate war-spending bills passed by the House and Senate included considerable pork-barrel domestic spending as well as about $100 billion for the war. He invited congressional leaders to a White House meeting next week to work on what officials said would be a "clean" measure providing money just for the war.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada complained that Bush was setting conditions for the White House talks with congressional leaders.

"He wants a clean bill," Reid said after consulting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). "That's not negotiating." He said Bush was used to a "rubber-stamp" Congress that approved everything he sought, but that things have changed since Democrats took over control in last November's elections.

Bush said that if Congress does not provide the funds he seeks for the war--without deadlines for ending the troops' deployment--some forces already in Iraq would see their missions extended because there would be insufficient money to train replacements, and other units already trained would see their time at home shortened before being sent back there.

The Senate and House have each approved measures that would give the administration about $103 billion in new money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each sets timelines for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Bush has repeatedly said he would veto legislation that cut off money to pursue the wars, and although Democrats hold majorities in both houses, their margin is too slim to provide sufficient votes to override a veto.

The Senate bill sets a nonbinding target of all combat troops withdrawn by March 31, 2008, while the House bill sets a deadline of Aug. 31, 2008, for complete withdrawal. Democratic leaders in both chambers are negotiating a compromise version to send back to each chamber for final passage.

A White House official, writing an e-mail message on the condition of anonymity, said the session should not be seen as a negotiating meeting.

Bush is playing the Dems` Iraq policy for what its worth, and will end up slapping down a veto nonetheless.

Now, the Democrats will look bad for not accepting an invitation for talks with the White House on such an important, and politically viotile, issue. This will not sit well with many people, I am sure. Although it is interesting how so many can be opposed with Pelosi, a Democrat, talking to Syria, yet not to Republicans talking to Syria, and, at the same time, opposed with Congress not accepting the White House’s probably one-sided invite for talks. Moreover, the conditions are unfair, just like when the White House sets conditions for diplomatic talks. The conditions are unilateral and one-sided, not to mention the administration is often either aggressive or blindsiding in talks.

Of course the Dems have set possibly-unfair conditions of their own for debate on Iraq policy in Congress…

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