With the shift in power on Capitol Hill, a top priority of the new Congress in 2007 will be to work with the Bush administration to forge a consensus on a new Iraq strategy that stabilizes Iraq and the Middle East.
Key ingredients for making a change to a more successful Iraq strategy already exist, and many of these may emerge in recommendations from the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group.
These elements arose in a national debate in 2005 and 2006, with many critics of the Bush administration policy on both sides of the partisan divide -- including Chuck Hagel and John Warner -- offering alternative strategies to the "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" that Bush presented a year ago.
But it was progressives, including many of the new leaders on Capitol Hill, who offered the most complete alternative strategy, articulated in a series of letters by the emerging congressional leadership over the past year. The core elements of this alternative strategy are similar to Strategic Redeployment, a plan released by the Center for American Progress in September 2005. The main components include:
1. Beginning a responsible redeployment of troops that reduces the U.S. military footprint in Iraq to motivate Iraqis to take control of their own affairs
2. Making a transition in the U.S. military mission in Iraq toward training and support for Iraq's security forces and targeted counterterrorism operations
3. Convening an international conference and contract group to support a political settlement to the conflict in Iraq and boost international support for Iraq's reconstruction
4. Working with Iraq's leaders to help them achieve an agreement that shares power and resources
As Congress works with the administration to forge this new consensus, it will increase its oversight and attention on Iraq policy. The executive branch sets the country's foreign policy priorities, but Congress wields a great deal of power because it must approve funding for all operations.
Early in the new year, Congress will have the opportunity to exercise increased oversight over Iraq policy when it considers a supplemental funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, estimated at $160 billion.
Brian Katulis is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
It is unlikely that Congress will cut off funding for U.S. military operations -- no leader wants to be put in the position of cutting off support for U.S. troops. But Congress will likely look at the taxpayer money that is being spent to support Iraq's government, including the efforts to arm and train Iraq's security forces.
At minimum, the new Congress will almost certainly ask more questions and place increased demands on the Bush administration for presenting a clearer strategy for success in Iraq. And if the new Congress is really serious and focused on forging a new Iraq strategy, it should establish a special bipartisan and bicameral working group to work with Bush administration officials to collaborate on getting Iraq's policy back on track.
In 2007, some serious changes in Iraq policy will be made. Expect that the new Congress will play a more active role in building this new strategy for Iraq.
Brian Katulis a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.