Bush's Handling of Iraq War Funding Bill Shows Skill

In the struggle over Iraq war funding, the Bush administration played a weak hand with very great skill.

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DANIEL SCHORR: On funding for the Iraq war, the administration, it must be said, played a weak hand with great skill.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

NPR's senior analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: The Democrats were denied their dearest wish, some moved towards a pull out of American troops and they'll have to content themselves with benchmarks towards political progress, but without any military consequence for failure. This comes as a deep disappointment to speaker Nancy Pelosi and to Representative John Murtha, who has been fighting for a pull out of troops immediately if not sooner.

It's been evident since last November's election that Americans are growing disenchanted with the war and feeling supported by the report of the Baker-Hamilton Commission, Democrats sought to tie a schedule for withdrawal through the funds to continue the war. President Bush vetoed one bill and threatened to veto another if it contained any suggestion of a time limit on troops in Iraq. At one point, the president appeared to waiver when he spoke of benchmarks without indicating what kind.

In the end, the administration stood firm. It has started to become clear that while the public wanted troops home, not many were in favor of abruptly pulling them out and leaving Iraq a catastrophe for which America would be blamed. The administration also made some points by warning that even a timetable for troop withdrawal might stimulate insurgent activity.

Tying the $120 billion emergency spending bill to an increase in the minimum wage and to popular domestic programs like Katrina Aid and veterans' benefits, that also help to ensure a passage of the bill. But the key element was what might be called the quagmire factor - a sinking feeling that any withdrawal timetable tends to encourage the enemy. A supplemental bill ensures funds until September and then the issue will arise again. The issue that could be called: don't want to stay, can't go.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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