The House of Representatives has begun three days of debate over the way forward in Iraq, and both escalation proponents and escalation critics are wrapping their arguments in claims of fidelity to the troops in the field.
Republicans say a vote against the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq would be a disservice to soldiers in the field, while Democrats -- including a veteran of the Iraq war -- argue that those same troops are best served by stopping the "surge" now.
"No one likes this war that we're in," said Republican Rep. David Dreier, but then he added: "We dishonor the lives of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice if we in fact abandon the mission. This resolution offers no hope to the troops." Republican Rep. Doc Hastings chimed in: "How can you support the troops but not the mission?"
The Democrats are defending their commitment to soldiers by letting the veterans among them do much of the early speaking. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., an Iraq war veteran, and Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a former vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, both said today that the best way to honor U.S. troops now is to oppose the president.
Murphy criticized Republicans for saying "that the only way to support the troops is to blindly support the president." "We are the troops," he said, "and we oppose the president's escalation of troops."
Sestak touted his 31 years of military service as he argued that Bush's escalation plan "doubles down on a bad military bet that has been tried already."
The resolution (PDF) the House is now debating is a much simpler statement than the various proposals that have floated -- aimlessly, it now seems -- through the Senate. The House version states: "(1) Congress and the American people will continue to support and protect the members of the United States Armed Forces who are serving or who have served bravely and honorably in Iraq; and (2) Congress disapproves of the decision President George W. Bush announced on January 10, 2007, to deploy more than 20,000 additional United States combat troops to Iraq."
Like the John Warner-Carl Levin proposal now languishing in the Senate, the House resolution is nonbinding. Democrats are vowing, however, that it's only a first step. Hinting at things to come, Democratic Rep. James McGovern said: "The best way to support our troops is to bring them home safely to their families."