Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Silver Lining of the Supplemental

In the face of strong criticism from antiwar Democrats, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, defended the compromise as great progress. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)Yesterday, Congressional Democrats ended a nearly 5-month cold war with the Bush Administration by approving supplemental Iraq war funding absent a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.

The anti-war netroots at Daily Kos and practically everywhere else on the internet are now in a tizzy, declaring "if the supplemental bill passes, it most probably means that Mister Bush has all the money he needs to continue this bloody disaster for the next 16 months." Even the New York Times is riddled with language about how the Dems "relented" and made a "wrenching reversal."

But as Erik noted in his recent blog, the media has a curious affinity for black-and-white half-truths, and for declaring "game over" in the third inning. Congressional leaders will have other, better opportunities to duke it out on a number of funding bills in coming months, including Department of Defense Appropriations. Furthermore, there's more to this emergency spending bill than the timetable issue.

For starters, this is the first bill that begins to address the urgent needs of the fastest growing refugee and internally displaced populations in the world. It
provides funding for lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection to help those displaced by the conflicts in Iraq and Darfur. Secondly, it restores funding for development NGOs that have successfully partnered with local Iraqi leaders to help them rebuild their war-torn communities. Third, the bill provides some of the assistance that Iraq desperately needs for an economic and political solution -- something that neither troop surges nor withdrawals are likely to produce alone.

No, we didn't get as much as we would have liked, but EPIC and our Iraq Peace and Development Working Group (IPDWG) allies lobbied hard and won $85 million above the President's request for Iraqi refugee/IDP assistance and restored $50 million of funding for USAID's Community Action Program (CAP) and the Marla Ruzicka War Victims Fund.

Even if you're among the "support our troops, bring them home" crowd and you buy the Daily Kos' 16-month-bloodbath prophecy, you ought to know this funding is crucial for protecting our troops. As long as they're over there, the best way we can help them is by stabilizing Iraq through political, civil and economic projects. Employed Iraqis with ownership of and interest in community projects, such as those funded by CAP and highlighted in our "Overlooked Successes" conference, aren't strapping bombs to their chests and going after Americans. And what you may not have heard is that these moderates do have an influence on those who are causing trouble - popular support is key to movements such as Moqtada al-Sadr's.

The sooner we get moving on economic, political and civil solutions, the less justification this Administration will have for maintaining or augmenting troop levels.

Also present in the approved bill are benchmarks. We're planning a series of blog entries here giving you details on each one, but for now suffice it to say we've been calling for benchmarks for years. Of course, benchmarks on U.S. progress rather than focusing entirely on the Iraqi side of the equation would have been nice. But you know how it is in Washington - baby steps, baby steps.

The bottom line is that U.S. troop levels are just one part, one question in the debate over Iraq's future. The media needs to be careful not to over-focus on that question at the expense of the needs of the Iraqi people.


Anonymous said...

It takes time to wind down a war that the President supports and he has the upperhand in this debate. I think passage of the supplemenal is the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq.

Emily Stivers said...

Let's hope so!

Emily Leaman said...

Great post. And I, too, hope this is the beginning of the end -- for the sake of our troops and the people of Iraq.

I also hope it's the beginning of a wider appreciation of the importance of emergency assistance and economic development for the Iraqi people. I see it as a process: aid first, development second. Following this simple plan (which I know would need a bit more complexity to be effective, but bear with me...) we can meet pressing needs, improve the quality of life for millions, and diminish the power and attractiveness of armed militias and insurgents (who currently provide security AND income for many Iraqis who lack other means of providing for their families).

Once we help improve their quality of life, I think we can look to long-term, sustainable plans, like economic development -- particularly Iraqi-driven, community-based development projects. Such projects -- which Emily S. mentioned are demonstrating a measure of success on a small scale in Iraq -- would get Iraqis invested in the rebuilding process, eventually diminishing the need for the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.

See, we all win.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I keep repeating myself but I must say it again, thank you for such positive thoughts. I sincerely hope more people can read this and take some heart that the situation can be improved, passing the bill isn't the end of the world and we will get something done and be out of there as soon as humanly possible.

Anonymous said...

Baby Steps - What about Bob! I think Bill Murray's characters from "What about Bob", "Stripes", or "Caddy Shack" could get the reconstruction of Iraq show going better than Washington bureaucrats of both parties. Seriously though, great posting!

Anonymous said...

I can't say this is GREAT news. Great news would be a bill that proposes helping Iraqi citizens is more important than fighting Iraqi insurgents.

The Bush administration is still too focused on aggresive war-mongering tactics. However, at least there is now enough power in Washington to make them bend a little. And of course, the end of the administration is finally in sight. :)

Anonymous said...

Insightful post, indeed. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I do have a big problem with tying the reconstruction funding to the benchmarks. On one hand, this might motivate the Iraqi government to deal more with their political squabbles. On the other hand, it could cause those funds to be cut back if they don't make any progress. If only we were doing more to win the "hearts and minds" or the Iraqi people instead of focusing almost exclusively on the military side. No wonder the situation is so bleak in Iraq. I worry about what happens if there is a military withdrawal.

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