Saturday, May 26, 2007

Military Funding Bill Includes Benchmark For Giving Up Oil Rights

Bangor Daily News reports:

For the first time, Congress has put conditions on its approval of funding for the war in Iraq. Although the president has leeway in meeting these conditions, this is an important step in better assessing progress in Iraq, which in turn should lead to a clearer understanding of how long U.S. troops should remain there.
The House and Senate on Thursday approved more than $100 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and some domestic projects. The bill did not include a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops — the reason President Bush vetoed an earlier funding bill. But it does include provisions from Sens. Susan Collins, John Warner and Ben Nelson to set benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet in order to receive U.S. reconstruction funds. It is the first time Congress has supported economic consequences if the Iraqis do not meet certain benchmarks.

The benchmarks include increasing the number of Iraqi security forces capable of operating independently, enactment and implementation of de-Baathification legislation, enactment of constitutional and electoral reforms, and passage of legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of oil revenues.

The legislation also requires the president to submit reports — in July and September — on whether the Iraqis are making satisfactory progress.

"This sends a very strong message to the Iraqi leaders that the status quo is not acceptable," Sen. Collins said. "It also tells the Iraqis that our presence and our commitment in Iraq is neither open-ended nor unconditional."

It also mirrors the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. When it was released six months ago, the report landed with a thud. Its recommendations for incentives to encourage the Iraqi government and talks with Iraq’s neighbors were largely ignored as focus remained on military action. As the Bush administration and Congress struggle to find a new direction for Iraq, it is not surprising that they are following the advice of the study group since few other options exist.

The group’s call for a diminished U.S. military presence, greater Iraqi government authority and regional diplomacy is as relevant today as when it was first issued in December. The question remains, however, how to implement such a policy as Iraq descends further into sectarian chaos.

Requiring reports from the president and tying financial assistance to the Iraqis meeting benchmarks they had devised, although small steps, set the stage for a fuller debate on the U.S. role in Iraq.

The debate will become more serious this summer after Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq, issues his report. After that, expect more focus on benchmarks and diplomacy as military options are exhausted.