This week, the House is planning to vote on legislation that would finally withdraw our troops from Iraq. The "U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Health and Iraq Accountability Act" sets a date for redeploying our troops to begin March 1, 2008, and be completed by August 31, 2008.
That’s later than I would have preferred but unfortunately, in order to get the enough votes to pass the bill it’s a compromise that had to be made. The alternative was to strip the withdrawal date and leave our troop involvement in the conflict open-ended.
However, in the meantime the bill sets up two hurdles the President and Iraqi government must meet in order for U.S. troops to even stay in Iraq until March ’08. The first is that if the President fails to report to Congress that the Iraqi government is making progress on a series of benchmarks listed in the legislation by July 1, 2007, then a redeployment of U.S. troops must begin immediately and be completed within 180 days. These benchmarks include passing a law that equitably shares oil revenues among Iraqis, adopting legislation that allows and sets a schedule for fair local elections and using Iraqi oil revenues to pay for reconstruction projects and the delivery of essential services like water and electricity.
If the Iraqi government passes this first test, the second hurdle states that if the President fails to certify that Iraq has actually accomplished the aforementioned benchmarks on October 1, 2007, then a redeployment of U.S. troops must begin immediately and be completed within 180 days.
These “hurdles” in the bill serve to hold the administration and Iraqi government accountable for making the progress they have promised would be made since the start of this misguided mission. The Iraqi people need to stand up and take control of their control of their country. That we cannot do for them.
This legislation also addresses the startling lack of support our nation’s soldiers are receiving once they return home from battle. The crisis at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has shown a light on what seems to be a systemic problem affecting the Veterans Affairs Administration and military health services.
In order to help fix these problems and truly support our troops, this legislation increases the President’s original request for military and veterans funding by $1.7 billion for military health care, including for Walter Reed and other hospitals, $1.7 billion for veterans’ health care, $2.5 billion for improving the readiness of our stateside troops, and $1.4 billion for military housing allowances.
Recognizing that the Iraq War has negatively affected our efforts to root out the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan, this legislation also re-focuses our efforts in that country. The bill provides $1.2 billion more than the President originally requested for military operations in Afghanistan. Likewise, setting a withdrawal date for our troops out of Iraq will give our military the time to reset and reengage more effectively in Afghanistan.