WASHINGTON – Calls for an early withdrawal from Iraq (search) are a mistake that will only embolden terrorists, the House resolved Wednesday. The resolution drew opposition from Democrats, who said it implied that questioning President Bush's Iraq policies is unpatriotic.
The measure, approved 291-137, says the United States should leave Iraq only when national security and foreign policy goals related to a free and stable Iraq have been achieved.
"Calls for an early withdrawal embolden the terrorists and undermine the morale" of U.S. and allied forces and put their security at risk, the amendment to a State Department bill reads.
The GOP-controlled House also voted 304-124 to accept another contentious amendment stating that the detention and lawful interrogation of detainees at Guantanamo (search) is essential to the war on terrorism. Some critics of reported prisoner abuse (search) and lack of legal recourse for detainees have called for Guantanamo to be closed.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., author of the Iraq provision, stressed that calls for an early withdrawal were counterproductive to security aims in Iraq.
"Words matter," she said. "Incessant calls for an established date for withdrawal from Iraq have a negative effect. ... Do we want to send a message to the terrorists that their war of attrition is succeeding?"
"To establish such a deadline," added House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, "all but ensuring disaster, would be morally and strategically indefensible."
But Democrats said the proposal was aimed mainly at putting critics of the war, and those seeking an exit strategy, in a bad light. To suggest that "those of us who oppose this war are somehow 'emboldening terrorists' is, to say the least, grotesque," said Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said the GOP leadership prevented Democrats from offering their amendments concerning the Iraq war as part of "an effort to marginalize and silence any critics of this administration's policies in Iraq."
Democrats sought to revise the bill to include a request that Bush provide a benchmark for success in Iraq, but it was rejected, 227-203,
The debate on the Guantanamo amendment also came down to a question of political motives.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., sponsor of the measure, said those who object to the military's detainee policies at the Cuban base "generally are opposed to a very tough and aggressive and engaged American foreign policy overseas."
Democrats argued that reports of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo have hurt U.S. efforts to fight terrorism. "It is not at all clear that the symbol that Guantanamo has become has made us more secure," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.
The amendments were part of a bill, passed 351-78, that authorizes almost $21 billion over the next two years for State Department programs. The bill includes programs to prevent the proliferation of weapons, deal with nuclear black markets, promote democracy and assist refugees.
The House also approved amendments that outline the reduction of U.S. contributions to the United Nations if the international body does not carry out reforms and sanctions on companies and nations that sell arms to China.
The administration, while not issuing a veto threat, issued strongly worded criticism of the GOP-crafted bill. It listed defense-related export controls that it said could restrict legitimate trade, and provisions to stop nuclear black markets that it said could jeopardize cooperation on nonproliferation efforts.
The White House also opposed a House move to shift $240 million in military aid for Egypt to economic assistance, and complained that the bill burdened the administration with 40 new requirements to file reports on various foreign activities.
The Senate has not yet completed work on its version of the bill.