Friday, August 31, 2007

Reid backs off from his game of chicken and says he is willing to consider policies other than a strict timetable for withdrawal. Does this backing off suggest a weakening of his hand? It sounds as though he may use these half-way measures to bleed support for the president's policies in Iraq (toward the ultimate goal of withdrawal). Other measures he is considering include Webb's troop rotation proposal and the Salazar-Alexander Iraq Study Group proposal:

One measure Reid said he will seek to resurrect would tighten rules on the use of troops by requiring soldiers' leave times to be at least as long as their most recent deployment. The proposal, offered by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), would not set withdrawal terms, but it could effectively limit U.S. force levels. A vote of 56 to 41 in favor of the measure on July 11 fell four votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster, but it had seven Republican supporters.

Another approach, left hanging when Reid terminated the July debate, was a proposal from Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to turn the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group into official U.S. policy. The study group's proposals, offered in December and mostly ignored by the White House, include setting the stage for a new regional diplomatic initiative and transitioning U.S. combat forces to more specific roles, including training and counterterrorism. If progress isn't made, troops would begin withdrawing early next year.

The Salazar-Alexander bill has attracted 12 additional co-sponsors, half of them Republicans. Reid said he is willing to listen to their pitch, but he remains concerned that the language is too cautious and may now be outdated.

Alexander said he and Salazar are discussing tweaks to reflect changing circumstances. But he believes that the study group report contains "the seeds for consensus," and he said of his proposal, "It's not withdrawal with a deadline, but it's finishing the job."

It does seem as though old drafts of the Salazar-Alexander bill (old text here) did not force a withdrawal but instead expressed the "sense of Congress" about what the president should consider doing under certain circumstances. How might this new measure be "tweaked"? Reid had earlier derided Salazar-Alexander as not having "the teeth of a toothless tiger." So will the measure be "tweaked" to give Reid some more teeth, or is he now happy with this tiger?