Weldon seeks plan for Iraq withdrawal
Weldon seeks plan for Iraq withdrawal
By Alexander Bolton, September 7, 2006
The second-ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is a strong supporter of the U.S. military mission in Iraq, has drafted a resolution that would give military commanders — instead of President Bush or Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld — decision-making authority over when American troops should return home.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), the vice chairman of the Armed Services panel and chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, told Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) Monday of his plans to introduce the resolution shortly.
The resolution would express the sense of the House that military commanders should put in place a system of criteria to assess the capability of Iraqi security forces. Once those criteria are met, the mission in Iraq would be considered complete and the president could begin withdrawing troops.
Weldon is one of the foremost Republican military experts in the House, and he is considered to have a good chance of succeeding Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) as chairman of the Armed Services Committee at the end of 2008 should Republicans keep control of the lower chamber.
But Weldon is also in the midst of a difficult reelection campaign because of voters’ generally sour view of the war in Iraq. His race is considered among the most competitive in the nation, and Weldon recently cited Bush’s low poll numbers as the reason.
In an interview, Weldon said his resolution “clearly says that the decision will be made by the commanding generals in the theater [of war]. They’re the ones we’re paying to do the job. They know what the criteria are, they’re the best to assess the readiness of the Iraqi brigades.”
“They determine the timetable for bringing the troops back home,” said Weldon of the commanders. “There’s no armchair politician back here making those decisions, whether it’s an elected member of Congress or even the secretary of the defense.”
The resolution is a bold step and goes farther than what many Democrats have advocated. Earlier this year, 37 Senate Democrats voted for a resolution that instructed the president to speed up the transition of U.S. forces to a “limited presence,” but still left the timetable for withdrawal firmly in the president’s power. The Democratic amendment did not go so far as to empower generals to set criteria for departure.
Weldon said he was expecting to discuss the proposal with other leaders such as Hunter, Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week.
Weldon initially introduced his proposal to the White House about a year ago, and has worked quietly behind the scenes to reach an agreement. But after 10 months of negotiations, Weldon is going forward on his own.
“I’ve tried to do this quietly with the administration over the last nine or 10 months,” he said. “I’ve had meeting after meeting, phone call after phone call, so now it’s time for me to do my job. I’m a legislator and I’ve put this in a legislative format.”
Yet Weldon is adamant that he is in no way undermining the president. He said he supports Bush and the war in Iraq. In Weldon’s view, his legislation is necessary to assure voters that the decision on when to pull out of Iraq will not be driven by political considerations.
Bush has said repeatedly that he will withdraw troops when the mission in Iraq is accomplished. Weldon says he merely wants to give the people who he says have the most expertise, the military commanders, the job of deciding what criteria must be met for the mission to be considered accomplished.
“The president appoints the generals, so this is not stripping him of anything,” said Weldon. “If you have a problem with that you don’t trust and have confidence in our generals.”
Weldon’s proposal, however, has met with strong skepticism among senior senators, including members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Constitutionally, the president is the commander-in-chief,” said Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I don’t see a good reason to separate the chain of command from the president. I appreciate what Curt is trying to do, but it’s not a good idea.”
Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), a Democrat on the Armed Services panel, raised constitutional questions.
“The Constitution clearly gives the president the authority as commander-in-chief to make that decision,” he said. “I don’t know how you get around the notion that the buck stops there in the White House.”
Weldon initially contemplated introducing his proposal as regular legislation, but opted instead for a sense of the House resolution after learning that legislation would conflict with the president’s constitutional war powers.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), a Republican on the Armed Services panel, said that empowering generals with such decisionmaking authority risked “doing away with civilian control of the military.”
“It would subvert civilian leadership of the military,” he said.
But House lawmakers more familiar with the proposal have been more amenable. Weldon may have a potential partner across the aisle in Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Weldon said he is looking to partner with a Democrat on the legislation.
Skelton told Weldon in a phone conversation Tuesday that he put forth a very similar proposal to the White House several months ago, according to Weldon, who did not know that Skelton had been contemplating a similar approach.
At the beginning of the year, Skelton proposed to Bush bringing home one American brigade for every three Iraqi brigades that had received adequate training.
Weldon said that Bush responded to Skelton, rejecting the proposal as “too stringent.”
Weldon added that Hastert’s staff was “intrigued” when he shared his proposal with them yesterday. He said that Dreier and Hunter also expressed cautious interest when he shared it with them several months ago.
At the time, however, Republican leaders were working on a different resolution endorsing Bush’s Iraq-policy that Boehner used to kick off a floor debate over the war. Boehner told Weldon that he did not have time to work with Weldon’s proposal, Weldon said.