Spencer McNeil of the Mike Gravel for President campaign has just asked me to write about the legislative initiative Gravel has written regarding the war in Iraq. It’s entitled the United States Armed Forces Withdrawal from Iraq Act, and its brief text reads as follows:
Effective 60 days after this bill becomes law:
1. The Joint Resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq (H.J. Res. 114), approved by the House of Representatives on October 10, 2002 and by the Senate on October 11, 2002, is hereby repealed.
2. All members of the United States Armed Forces must be withdrawn from Iraq, except the Marine Corps guards serving on the sovereign territory of the United States at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and performing solely typical embassy guard duties. No member of the United States armed forces may remain within the borders of Iraq on and after the 61st day after this bill becomes law.
3. No funds authorized or appropriated at any time by any other Act of Congress or controlled by the United States or any of its officers, employees, or agents (whether or not the use of such controlled funds has been authorized or appropriated by an Act of Congress) may be used to conduct or support military or para-military operations (whether conducted by members of the United States Armed Forces or by military personnel or civilians of any nation) within or over the territory of Iraq (which territory of Iraq includes the waters within 3 miles of the Iraqi coast) except for travel by the Marine Corps embassy guards allowed by Section 2.
4. On the 62nd day after this bill becomes law and on the first business day of each month thereafter (for a period of one year following the 62nd day after this bill becomes law), each of the following officials shall deliver to the Congress a separate written certificate signed by the official under penalty of perjury certifying that since the 61st day after this bill becomes law the United States has complied with the sections of this law indicated immediately after each officialâ€™s position:
a. the President – sections 2 and 3
b. the Vice President – sections 2 and 3
c. the Secretary of Defense – sections 2 and 3
d. the Secretary of the Treasury – section 3
5. It shall be unlawful for any person willfully and knowingly to violate, or to conspire to violate, any provision of this law or to deliver a written certificate to the Congress as required by Section 4 which certificate is false. The provisions of this Section 5 shall not apply to any person who, at the time of the violation, was a uniformed member of any branch of the United States Armed Forces below general officer or flag rank (below the rank of Brigadier General or below the rank of Rear Admiral). Any violation of any provision of this law, and conspiracies to commit such a violation, occurring outside the United States, shall be prosecuted only in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over any such prosecution. Each act constituting a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of $1,000,000 and by imprisonment for five years (without the possibility of parole, probation, or reduction in fine or sentence for any reason other than a written certificate from the prosecuting attorney representing the United States to the effect that the convicted person has provided information necessary to a conviction actually obtained of some person of higher rank for a violation of any provision of this law). Notwithstanding any other provision of law, in the event any fine is not paid as ordered by the court, the Secretary of the Treasury shall deduct the unpaid amount of the fine from any funds otherwise payable for any reason by the United States to any person convicted of a violation of any provision of this law. Such deductions shall continue until the fine has been paid in full. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any prosecution of a violation of any provision of this law must commence within fifteen (15) years after the violation occurred.
Gravel has written an accompanying statement regarding the Act which you may find helpful to read. It contains some dubious claims, such as:
“And now that the American public knows that the unprovoked invasion of Iraq war was based on deliberate lies, the majority of Americans want our troops to leave Iraq.”
This is true in the sense that 63% of Americans surveyed in the latest CBS/New York Times poll of May 18-23, 2007 agreed that “the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq sometime in 2008.” But I haven’t seen any polling to suggest that the majority of Americans want our troops to leave Iraq in the manner Gravel suggests. Indeed, a supermajority in that same latest nationally representative poll — 69% — endorsed the option that “Congress should allow funding, but only on the condition that the U.S. sets benchmarks for progress and the Iraqi government are meeting those goals.” Only 15% agreed with the idea that “Congress should block all funding for the war in Iraq no matter what.” — an action that would in effect achieve the same end Gravel’s Act accomplishes. A CNN poll from early May 2007 shows 60% opposition to a straightforward withdrawal date of March 2008. The same poll indicated that support and opposition for a bill revoking the war authorization of 2002 and asking Bush to re-apply for authorization (a weaker idea than Gravel’s 60-days-and-out plan) were at levels statistically indistinguishable from one another. That’s not an American consensus for a straight-ahead “get ‘em out!” policy. It’s not treasonous to the anti-war cause to state these polling numbers, it’s just what appears to be the case.
In short, I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that Gravel’s “just get out” policy contained in his USAF Withdrawal Act can be justified by appeals to its strong popularity with the American people. This is important, because a major plank of Mike Gravel’s platform is the idea of legislation by national initiative. Gravel has argued that laws should reflect ideas with strong popularity among Americans — indeed, his National Intiative idea suggests that legislation should be put up in a national election if it is popular in an opinion poll. If Gravel’s proposed legislation doesn’t match the national will, why should it be enacted, by the logic of his national initiative idea? Popularity is also key to the strategy Gravel spells out for getting his bill enacted into law — to bring his bill up for a vote again and again and again and again before the Senate, tying up the legislative body, until the American people rise up in support of it and push Congress to finally pass it. I like the romantically outraged sound of it all; the plan makes me think of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But the American people don’t appear to sympathize enough with Gravel’s agenda to go along. This makes Gravel’s Act and accompanying plan for passing it strategically questionable.
Let’s set aside the popularity question — which given Gravel’s policy platform is essential if he wishes to be consistent — and consider the substance of the legislation apart from its association with the candidate Mike Gravel and his constellation of other policy ideas. The assertion of the legislation is that getting the American military quickly out of Iraq within 60 days, with no ifs, ands, buts, or responses to changing circumstances in Iraq, is the best way to end the war in Iraq. I think it’s a recipe for disaster. I’m no military strategist, but to give any military 60 days to have a national occupation completed so that only an embassy guard remains seems to me a very tall order. Such a withdrawal would involve tearing U.S. military presence abruptly from neighborhoods and cities, with little time to put anything else in its place. Do you remember what happened in the circumstances of last power vacuum in Iraq, when Saddam’s military was abruptly routed? Looting and mayhem. I think this time, without careful and time-intensive preparation, things would be much worse. Why rush out? Why not ease out?
Gravel’s strategy for withdrawal does not provide a justification for this abruptness. Instead, it provides an assurance that once the U.S. leaves everything can be fixed:
Passage of the United States Armed Forces Withdrawal From Iraq Act will allow our nation to remove our soldiers from harmâ€™s way and then permit the United States to pursue a diplomatic solution with nations in the region and with the United Nations to end the bloody civil war the Bush unprovoked invasion brought to Iraq.
Well, if that’s the goal — “to end the bloody civil war the Bush unprovoked invasion brought to Iraq” with a diplomatic solution pursued by the US, UN and regional nations — why not do that now? Why not make that the policy, and why not make U.S. withdrawal an incentive for all nations in the region currently irritated by American presence? After the U.S. withdraws, it will have no standing or advantage to exert leverage in pursuit of the end of a civil war. It seems to me that Mike Gravel’s got his order backwards. The path to pursue, starting today, is the multilateral diplomatic path that George W. Bush has allowed to wither. Why not use diplomacy to achieve a political solution, and withdraw American troops incrementally as that solution is implemented?
I know, I know, that’s assuming that the Bush administration is interested in diplomacy. But we’re already speaking in afactual terms, since the assumption of Congressional majorities for Gravel’s precipitous withdrawal isn’t supported by the actions we’ve seen on the Hill this week. So if we’re going to play the fun counterfactual game, why don’t why just imagine a plan in which the concerned parties sit down, talk, and negotiate a solution among themselves? I know, we don’t get to impeach anybody right away. But fewer people die, and junk like that.
So Mr. McNeil has what he asked for — my consideration of his candidate’s plan. I think it’s divorced from practical reality. But that’s just my person’s opinion. If you’ve read Gravel’s plan and accompanying strategy to implement his plan, I’d love to hear what you think about it. And hey, who knows, maybe someone from the Gravel campaign might be listening.