Sen. Jim Webb thinks legal action against the Bush administration may be needed if the president pursues a long-term military presence in Iraq without Congress' approval.
"I'm not convinced we don't need to have a lawsuit ready," Webb told the Huffington Post. "This is a classic separation of powers issue. I started to talk to people about this today."
In recent days the administration has seemingly backed away from attempting to secure extended military-to-military relationship with the Iraqi government to replace a current U.N. Mandate. Webb and others -- most notably Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- have pushed legislation that would restrict federal money for any such agreement unless it came in the form of a congressional treaty. And while a victory on that front seems within grasp, the possibility still exists, Webb warned, for the administration to ultimately circumvent congressional input.
"They are characterizing this as within the authority of the Executive Branch. They will wait to August when everyone is at the conventions, and leave it on our doorstep," said the Virginia Democrat. "If the Senate hasn't acted by then, they are going to announce an agreement between the Executive Branch and Iraq."
The issue of a long-term military presence in Iraq reemerged on the political landscape today after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he may suspend the reduction of U.S. troops from the country depending on security considerations.
"A brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense," Gates told reporters during a short stop at this U.S. base in southern Baghdad.
Earlier proclamations from Gates suggested that the U.S. would not pursue a policy of extended military presence and that conditions in Iraq would improve enough during the second half of 2008 to permit troop withdrawals.
Asked to respond to Gates' remarks, Webb cautioned that, before working off of one person's assessment, the Senate would best be served to get the input of generals on the ground. He also agreed that the statement fit into the greater context of the Bush administration and its congressional allies pushing to make America's presence in the region permanent.
"I think they are doing everything they can," said Webb. "And I don't think there is any secret to the fact that Sen. Mitch McConnell and John McCain and most of the people in the Republican Party are comfortable with the fact that we will be in Iraq for the next 50 years."
The issue of permanency has been a focal point of the Democratic presidential campaign. On the campaign trail, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, asked her challenger, Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, to co-sponsor her bill that would prevent the president from entering into such a pact without approval from Congress. On Monday, the two candidates weighed in on the topic with each offering critical statements of Gates' proclamation.
"I strongly disagree with the Administration's plans to 'pause' the long overdue removal of our combat brigades from Iraq," said Obama. "We cannot wage war without end in Iraq while ignoring mounting costs to our troops and their families, our security and our economy... Instead of false promises and a faulty strategy, the American people need a rapid and responsible removal of our combat brigades that relieves the burden on our military."
Added Clinton: "This means that we will have as many troops in Iraq in the summer of 2008 as we had at the beginning of 2007. I continue to call on the President to end the war he started, to take responsibly for bringing our young men and women home... The whole idea behind this so-called surge was to give the Iraqi government the space and time to make the tough decisions that only they can make for themselves and the future of their country."