By Dick Morris on July 18, 2007

Published on on July 18, 2007.

When the House of Representatives voted, on July 12, 2007- by a margin of 223-201 – against the Iraq war, the news media characterized the bill as requiring a “withdrawal” from that war-torn country. Media reports said that the legislation required the start of withdrawal in four months and mandated that it be completed by April of 2008.

Nonsense. The bill did nothing of the sort. Rather, it specified that its goal was to “require the secretary of defense to commence the reduction of the number of United States armed forces in Iraq to a limited presence by April 1, 2008″ (emphasis added). The legislation went on to specify what it meant by a “limited presence.” It specified that the “president shall, at a minimum, address whether it is necessary for the armed forces to carry out the following missions:

“(A) Protecting United States diplomatic facilities and United States citizens, including members of the armed forces who are engaged in carrying out other missions.

“(B) Serving in roles consistent with customary diplomatic positions.

“(C) Engaging in actions to disrupt and eliminate al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations in Iraq.

“(D) Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces.”

Indeed, rather than require a pullout, the legislation requires the president to keep troops in Iraq if he finds that any of the above purposes are “necessary.”

The legislation thus comes relatively close to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) goals in Iraq, as she indicated to The New York Times in March of this year. In that interview, she specified that our troops should fight al Qaeda; train, equip and support the Iraqi forces; and stop infiltration over the border from Iran. According to the Times, Pentagon experts who evaluated how to perform a similar menu of missions estimated that it would require upwards of 75,000 troops.

So the left in Congress has redefined its goal. Instead of a pullout, it merely proposes a “reduction” and a “redeployment.”

Under a Democratic administration, the war will clearly go on.

Michael Medved, an unusually well informed talk radio host operating out of Seattle, pointed out this distinction – one that has been almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media, yet one that is critically important.

First of all, it raises the question of whether the left will be satisfied with its Democratic candidates if they are committed to so limited a change in Iraqi policy. Will they find Hillary acceptable if all she wants to do is end our involvement in what she calls the Iraqi Civil War, but still wants these other missions to be executed? With Ralph Nader making noise indicating that he will likely run again, the threat of a genuine anti-war third-party candidacy emerging in the November elections could bring back all the 2000 nightmares for the Democratic Party. If Nader runs as the only candidate who wants to pull out of Iraq completely and can accuse the Democrats of wanting to prolong the war indefinitely, he will probably get a good percentage of the vote – perhaps as much as 10 points, enough to destroy the Democratic chances.

And secondly, the new and more moderate (and reasonable) Democratic goals raise the possibility of a genuine consensus in Washington orchestrated by moderate Republicans like Sens. John Warner (Va.), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Pete Domenici (N.M.) in conjunction with moderate Democrats. If Bush’s filibuster-sustaining majority is about to melt away and his margin for sustaining a veto is in peril, the reduction position is a clear halfway house to which he may wish to repair.

If the president does so – or has to do so – will the debate over Iraq just boil down to an arithmetic contest where a matter of 40,000 or 50,000 troops separates the two parties?

Finally, will John Edwards breathe new life into the lifeless Democratic contest by opposing the “reduction” legislation and demanding total withdrawal? The now-phlegmatic Democratic debates could become riveting if Edwards seizes the opportunity the actual text of the reduction initiative gives him and attacks his rivals for wanting to continue the war, albeit while masquerading as advocates of ending it.

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