Dems get behind Berman’s Iraq bill

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first_imgWASHINGTON – Sweeping legislation that would redeploy U.S. troops if President George W. Bush fails to meet his own goals in Iraq was unveiled Thursday by a San Fernando Valley congressman and immediately embraced by Democratic leaders. The measure by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys, is the first to give teeth to the benchmarks that Bush outlined in January when he proposed sending 21,500 additional troops to Iraq. It would compel the administration to prove that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is reducing sectarian violence, improving security forces and creating an equitable distribution of oil and other resources. If Bush fails to certify progress in Iraq – or if Congress doesn’t believe him – lawmakers would be empowered to quickly vote to redeploy troops. It remains unclear how Berman’s measure will play in the Senate – where Democrats and Republicans have stalled over debate on Iraq – but there is broad expectation that it stands a greater chance of success there than do other bills on the issue. “This legislation will light a fire under the administration and keep the fire burning,” Berman wrote in a letter to colleagues. If Bush vetoes the bill, Berman said, “His message will be, `I don’t want to be held accountable for the effectiveness of my new strategy.’ That is not an acceptable message for a commander in chief to send to the American people.” Calls to the White House seeking comment were not returned. But Democratic leaders already have adopted Berman’s plan into their daily talking points. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intends to incorporate the measure into an Iraq spending package later this month, said her spokesman Brendan Daly. Bruce Cain, director of the University of California’s Washington Center, said tying troop withdrawal to something concrete such as proof of failed progress gives cover to Republicans and moderate Democrats like Berman who previously supported the war. “It’s kind of giving the administration the No Child Left Behind treatment,” said Cain, referring to the Bush-approved education plan that forces schools to meet achievement benchmarks. “If they think that’s good enough for education, maybe it ought to be good enough for them.” Cain said the measure would allow Democrats to end the war without taking an extreme – and politically risky – measure such as cutting off funding for troops. And it would allow Republicans who also might be tired of the war to sign on to a withdrawal plan without being perceived as abandoning the president. “It’s a pretext for doing what the party and people want to do anyway,” Cain said. Still, some foreign-policy analysts questioned the approach and called the notion of setting benchmarks unrealistic. “Even some of us who study this stuff full time aren’t smart enough to know when you’re having a counterinsurgency that is successful,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a scholar on Iraq and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Berman’s bill, he said, is “good to the extent that it puts some achievable standards and benchmarks for us all to wrestle with.” While it is reasonable to expect decreased violence in Iraq, he said, it’s harder to quantify progress in such areas as electricity production or improved security forces. “I’m not sure which metric is the right one to look at,” O’Hanlon said. “The idea that you can hold a failed state to this level of performance is unrealistic.” Berman voted in favor of the Iraq war but has grown increasingly critical of the administration over the course of the war. He remained a supporter, however, until this year when he voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush’s troop surge. Aides said his legislation – the result of years of conversations with colleagues and experts in Middle East policy – is an effort to stake out bipartisan ground between those who want to end the war immediately and those who want to give Bush’s plan a chance to succeed. Berman himself called the measure “responsible and practical” and argued that it would “provide, by law, the means to hold the administration accountable for the success of its surge strategy.” At the same time, he argued, the legislation would give Bush and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus leverage to demand full cooperation from the al-Maliki government. “It empowers them to maximize chances for success,” Berman said. “If Iraqis don’t cooperate, if the sectarian violence does not subside, (this bill) will leave Sunnis and Shiites to their own fate. “The ball will be in their court,” Berman said. “We will no longer have a role.” [email protected] (202) 662-8731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img