The attempt being made by Democrats in the United States Congress to set a timeline for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq is not likely to be successful. President George W. Bush is expected to veto any such legislation. However, through these efforts, the Democrats have sent a clear message that they will not let the President get away with his strategy to hand over the failed Iraq policy to his successor. With very little chance that the situation in Baghdad can be turned around, Mr. Bush's options for saving his legacy are limited. One of the few courses of action open to him is to hold out against a termination of the occupation. The next President would then have to live with the consequences of a withdrawal, which could conceivably be just as debilitating for Iraq and U.S. interests worldwide as the occupation has been. At such a point in time, Mr. Bush could argue forcefully that his policy of "staying the course" was the correct one. The Democrats, who have good reason to believe that a member of their party could well become the next President, are obviously aware of this trap. The spending bills passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives calling for troop withdrawal by September 2008 mark the first steps in the effort to end the occupation during Mr. Bush's watch.
The House Democratic leadership does not appear to be overly perturbed by the vulnerabilities that were exposed as they strove to pass the bill. More than a dozen of the party's Representatives from conservative districts declined to support it and no more than a couple of Republicans switched sides during the vote. The bill was passed by only a very narrow margin, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats have reason to be satisfied with the outcome. They accomplished a task that appeared impossible at one stage, managing to unite on one platform both the anti-war liberals and the centrists in the party establishment. They will be in a sound position to take further action when, as expected, Mr. Bush vetoes the bill. With funding for the hugely expensive war machine posing a serious problem, the President will have to negotiate with Congress for further outlays. The Republicans in Congress are all too aware that public opposition to the occupation is growing by the day and the party's prospects for the 2008 election cycle will not look very good if the administration's Iraq policy does not soon produce positive results. Since such a turn around appears unlikely, it might be only a matter of time before more Republicans too join the calls for a withdrawal.