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.