COMMENTS: September Benchmarks

After a hiatus of a week, the negotiations inside the Beltway over how to fund the war in Iraq returned to the top of the news agenda. President George Bush relented ever so slightly from his previous insistence that Congress should attach no strings. He accepted the principle that so-called benchmarks should be established to measure the performance of the government in Baghdad. That shift was enough to be the lead story on NBC and CBS and to qualify as the Story of the Day. ABC led with the deceptive marketing of the prescription painkiller OxyContin.

The President apparently shifted his position--he "signaled compromise" noted NBC's David Gregory, "for the first time"--not because of pressure from Democrats but because there are signs of splintering in his previously near unanimous support from Congressional Republicans. Specifically, Bush was criticized by eleven GOP House members in the Tuesday meeting that NBC's Tim Russert covered yesterday. CBS' Jim Axelrod followed up: they "told him bluntly that his policy in Iraq is threatening the party."

The benchmarks that may be formally imposed on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are similar to the measures urged by Vice President Dick Cheney during his surprise visit to Baghdad. CBS' Sharyl Attkisson previewed one possible formula from Sen Olympia Snowe, the Republican from Maine. Snowe would give Iraq four months to take control of its own military, disarm militias and undertake political reforms otherwise "most combat troops would be out within six months" after that.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Democrats debated paying for the war on the instalment plan, in quarterly tranches of $43bn. ABC's Jake Tapper reported that Bush pledged to veto that scheme as "haphazard piecemeal funding." Yet the current policy will only hold until September anyway. That is when Gen David Petraeus is scheduled to report on the troop reinforcement to establish security in Baghdad, the so-called surge. "There is no one in the country right now who has more power over the conduct of this war or whether Congress will accept it," declared ABC's George Stephanopoulos (no link) of Petraeus. If he does not report progress, "Republicans are going to abandon the President in droves." If it is true that the future of the US in Iraq is to be determined in September, CBS' Axelrod repeated the warning from his unnamed Republican sources: "August could get awfully bloody."


You must be logged in to this website to leave a comment. Please click here to log in so you can participate in the discussion.