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Daily Column
US Papers Friday: Not 100 years, More Like Five
McCain predicts Iraq victory, wonderful world by 2013; War funding halts on Hill
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 05/16/2008 01:49 AM ET
It's an odd grab bag of stories today, but everyone leads with Sen. John McCain's statement that most of the troops could be home by 2013, making Iraq one of the longest wars in U.S. history. (And some said it would be a "cakewalk"... A very long one, apparently.) The other big news revolves around the House bill to fund the war, while The New York Times and the Washington Post try to get some extra coverage of R&R for the troops and Arab diplomacy, respectively.

Presidential politics
Michael D. Shear and Karen DeYoung of the Post report that McCain has finally offered a semi-firm date for when he hopes the war will be over: 2013, making Iraq a 10-year war. That would, amazingly, coincide with the end of the next president's first term. The statement was all part of a larger vision that has his policies cementing peace and prosperity at home and abroad. The 2013 statement is designed to blunt his "100 years" comment, which has landed him in hot water with everyone except hard-core war supporters. It's also designed to distance himself from the unpopular President George W. Bush, who has never presented a concrete vision of what would allow GIs to leave Iraq. So what's the difference now between McCain and the Democrats? He says he will leave troops in Iraq past 2013 if it's necessary. Among critics of McCain, Sen. Joe Biden said it best:

"What the hell's the strategy?" asked Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), a former presidential candidate who has not endorsed Obama or Clinton. "I like John's dream, I like the goal. But I've not heard John say anything about how we're going to accomplish that goal."
Even some of supporters were puzzled by it all, with Leslie H. Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, calling it a speech from "la-la land." "It is unsupported generalizations and predictions that he would have scoffed at as the old John McCain," Gelb said.

Elisabeth Bumiller has the story of the Times and leads that McCain's prognostication saw Iraq as a functioning democracy with only "spasmodic" episodes violence in 2013. Awesome. She characterized the speech as "extraordinarily positive" and noted that he offered no proposals for how he would make the world such a better place. By 2013, Osama bin Laden will be killed or captured, the Taliban threat "greatly reduced," there will have been no major terrorist attack on the U.S., and Iran and North Korea will have been persuaded to give up nuclear weapons programs. His speechwriter admitted that he used the "look into the future!" method as a way of avoiding rapid fact checking by McCain's political opponents. Yeah, I guess predicting what the world will look like in five years without a single policy proposal to back it up would make fact-checking difficult. However, there was -- still -- no mention of flying cars in the speech.

Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal also has the Great McCain Psychic prediction game story, but also notes that McCain promised to include Democrats in his cabinet, hold weekly questions sessions with Congress, ala the British prime minister, and would end the era of the permanent campaign.

Battle on the Hill
Carl Hulse of the Times leaps into the back and forth on the latest war funding bill in the House, reporting that Democrats and some Republicans approved a surtax on the wealthy to pay for added educational benefits for veterans who enlisted after Sept. 11, 2001. At the same time, however, a vote to provide $163 billion to fight the Iraq and Afghanistan wars went down to a "surprising" defeat because of objections from both parties. Hulse notes the 0.47 percent surtax on individual incomes over $500,000 is the most striking example so far of Democrats putting other people's money where their mouths are when it comes to asking the well-to-do to shoulder more of the war burden. (Couples making $1 million also get taxed.) Republicans, tiresomely and predictably, complained this tax would land the economy in deep do-do, and spell the end of the Republic. Well, almost. But with an election looming, and there being more sub-$500,000 income voters than not, 32 Republicans joined 224 Democrats to approve the tax. Now it just has to get past the Senate, which is more hostile to the idea. And the White House has promised a veto because foolish consistencies -- all taxes are always bad, always -- are the hobgoblins of Bush's mind. The funding vote failed for some unclear reasons listed as 132 Republicans opposed to the "Democratic handling of the measure." They're whining that the Democrats don't include them in the planning, meaning the Dems are acting like pre-2006 Republicans. A large bloc of Democrats voted against the funding because they don't want to fund the wars anymore. The supplemental failed, 149-141. But fear not, Army budgeteers. The funding will be restored in the Senate, most likely.

The Post's Jonathan Weisman focuses on the funding bill's defeat, reporting that anti-war activists were happy, Republicans gloating and Democratic leaders baffled. This is one of the Post's signature stories, getting deep into the weeds of Congressional procedure and personal politics. Enter if you dare.

Sarah Lueck and Gregg Hitt of the Journal report that the failure of the funding bill reflects deep-rooted angst over the war, and now the bill goes to the Senate without any war funding at all but laden with stuff Bush didn't want. So, it's a big defeat for Bush. Kudos for Lueck and Hitt for pointing out the real-world implications: The Pentagon says that if the funding isn't restored by Memorial Day, the Army's paycheck accounts will be out of money by mid-June. Operation and maintenance budgets will run out of green by early July. The Army may get a loan from the Navy and Air Force budgets as a stopgap measure. That would give the Army a few more weeks of financial ammo. So as the bill goes to the Senate, it falls to a fractious body to restore funding. But it's going to be tricky. Bush has promised to veto any bill that goes above his $108 billion request for the wars. Senate Democrats want more domestic spending. But Bush can't really afford a veto. The coming weeks will be an intense game of brinkmanship.

The Journal editorial page is angry that Democrats would dare raise taxes to pay for veterans benefits while not funding the war. Admittedly, that doesn't look very good, but the Journal's pique is stoked over $2,350 (the .47 percent tax on $500,000). Mike Ross, D-Ark., said the well healed won't miss it, and you know what? He's probably right. Anyway, the editorial is predictable. "Taxes bad. Democrats worse."

IN OTHER COVERAGE

New York Times
Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports on "Shades of Green" a resort reserved for service members and their families inside Disney World. It's one of five retreats from around the world for service members. Rooms that would cost $350 a night at the top-level Disney resorts cost as little as $89. Good for Disney World for providing this. Guys (and women) coming back from Baghdad or Kabul could use the comforting environment of Disney World, especially if they have kids.

A Times editorial sullenly complains that Blackwater is still operating in Iraq despite heaps of criticism.

Washington Post
Karen DeYoung reports that despite warm sentiments from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab regimes, Baghdad is still embassy-less in this regard. Frustrated U.S. policy makes say Iraq needs the Arabs and the Arabs need Iraq, even if it does have a Shi'ite-dominated government and is now close to Persian Iran. The point they're missing is that Sunni Arab governments have less problem with the Shi'ites in Iraq with the fact that they were put in power by the United States. If Saudi Arabia were to recognize Iraq, the royal family there would face a severe backlash from its people who hate the war as an attack on Arabs and on Islam by a Western power and Saudi recognition would be a de facto blessing of that attack. Granted the Shi'ite thing doesn't help, but the main reason is the involvement of the United States.

Christopher Lee reports that a doctor at a PTSD program in Texas told Veterans Administration staff members to stop diagnosing PTSD because so many veterans were seeking government disability payments for it. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Christian Science Monitor and USA Today
No original Iraq coverage today.

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