The key talking point of supporters of indefinitely continuing the U.S. occupation of Iraq boils down to this: there is nothing Congress can do to compel the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq except "cut the funding," and cutting the funding would hurt the troops.
So far this argument has been quite effective at cowing the leadership in Congress; indeed, until now the leadership has mostly echoed this argument.
It's not surprising: this argument has not been seriously challenged in the media, and in fact, according to recent polls, it's partly accepted by a majority of the public. Recent polls indicate that a majority wants Congress to take action to bring the troops home within a year, but a majority also opposes "cutting the funding." Of course this is a chicken-and-egg situation: the media take cues from the leadership of the parties, the party leaderships take cues from the media, and the public takes cues from the parties and the media.
But so long as the Congressional leadership fails to challenge the view that there is nothing that they can do except cut the funding, and cutting the funding would harm the troops, the war will not end.
There is no question that the troops are in danger. They are in danger because they are in Iraq. The simplest way to remove them from danger is to remove them from Iraq.
There is no serious question that regardless of what path Congress takes towards promoting a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, as long as U.S. troops are in Iraq, Congress is going to make sure that U.S. troops have equipment for self-protection. In fact, Democrats in Congress arguably have been more concerned about protecting the troops in Iraq than the Administration, on questions like body armor and armoring of vehicles, for example.
Would an orderly withdrawal (or "redeployment") of U.S. troops from Iraq increase the danger to U.S. troops? Obviously, after the withdrawal the troops would be in much less danger. How about while they are being withdrawn? While there certainly would not be zero danger, there is no reason to think that the danger would increase, and every reason to think that it would decrease. There may well be some armed groups in Iraq who have a specific goal of killing American soldiers, and perhaps such groups would continue to try to kill American soldiers even if it were clear that U.S. soldiers were withdrawing, but there is no reason to think that an orderly withdrawal would increase this risk. On the other hand, the bulk of the insurgency is clearly motivated by a desire to drive U.S. forces from Iraq, and since attacking U.S. troops is a risky enterprise, there is every reason to believe that if the U.S. were to demonstrate the intention to withdraw its forces attacks on U.S. forces would decrease. In fact, in the past insurgent groups negotiating with U.S. officials have offered to cease attacks on U.S. forces if the U.S. would set a timetable for withdrawal. So it is likely that establishing such a timetable would make U.S. troops safer, even during the withdrawal.
Would withdrawing from Iraq give "victory" to our enemies? Only children and adults who have lost the ability to reason allow themselves to be ruled by this logic. A rational person asks first: what is in my interest? If extricating themselves from a dangerous enterprise that is gaining them nothing is in their interest, rational people do extricate themselves, even at the "cost" of mockery by their "enemies."
Is there any danger Congress will bring about a "precipitous" withdrawal? Is Congress capable of doing anything opposed to the President's policy in Iraq precipitously? Look how long it took the House to pass a non-binding resolution against the increase in troops - a resolution that still has not passed the Senate, although it was supported by a majority of Senators.
The mostly likely outcome is that Congress could, using its power of the purse and other war powers, force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in the future. Even if Congress didn't appropriate a dollar of the President's request for more funding, enough money has already been appropriated to cover an orderly withdrawal. And if more money were needed to cover an orderly withdrawal, Congress would approve it in a heartbeat.
Does "supporting the troops" require "supporting their mission?" U.S. troops do not determine their "mission." Subject to the requirements of U.S. and international law, U.S. troops follow orders from our elected government. If Congress must "support the mission" in order to "support the troops," then Congress must support and fund whatever President Bush decides, even if it is criminally insane. According to this logic, if President Bush orders 150,000 U.S. troops to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge as a message to Osama Bin Laden that we are not to be trifled with, then Congress must not only support this, but approve tax dollars to pay for the buses to drive soldiers to the bridge.
Representative Murtha and Speaker Pelosi have offered a way around the impasse about "cutting the funding": they plan to give the President all the money he asks for the war in Iraq, but put restrictions on the money that would have the effect of stopping the President from increasing troop deployments in Iraq and force him to begin withdrawing troops. While Representative Murtha deserves credit for trying to figure out a way around the impasse, it's not obvious that this strategy will work, so long as the myth that ending funding for the war will harm the troops is left unchallenged. It's quite clear how the President's supporters in Congress are going to argue against the Murtha plan: they are going to say that it is a sneaky way to cut the funding, and therefore, it will harm the troops.
So Murtha plan or no, those who wish to end the war and bring the troops home would be well-advised to get busy pulling apart the argument that ending funding for the war will harm the troops. As Tom Matzzie of MoveOn has argued, Democrats need to directly rebut the Republican charge that Democrats are threatening the safety of American forces in the field by pushing restrictions on war funding. "Cutting off funding as described by the media and White House is a caricature," Matzzie told The Politico. "It has never happened in U.S. history, and it won't happen now."