U.S. Congress and the Iraqi Parliament

Ron Nessen
Ron Nessen Journalist in Residence

August 28, 2007

There’s a lot of commentary these days concluding that there are many similarities between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq.

Even President Bush made the comparison, arguing that the murder and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese triggered by the withdrawal of American troops in 1973 could be duplicated in Iraq if the United States withdraws its forces precipitously from that country.

However, the more apt comparison is between the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi Parliament.

Examination suggests they have a great deal in common.

For instance, both our Congress and their Parliament shut down and took an extended vacation for the entire month of August, despite a large backlog of essential legislation that remains unapproved, including the budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

(The start of the new U.S. government’s fiscal year is barely a month away with no approved spending plan. At least the Iraqis have until January 1st to approve their budget.)

On the left-undone list when the Iraqi Parliament took off for August were:

  • A plan for electing provincial officers.
  • Amending the Iraqi constitution to undo many Hussein-era laws.
  • Easing restrictions on former members of Saddam’s government holding civil service positions.
  • Increasing Iraq’s oil production
  • Devising a formula to distribute Iraq’s oil revenues among Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish regions.
  • Assigning trained managers to economic reconstruction projects now run by Americans.

Not to be outdone by the Iraqis, here is some of the pending business the U.S. Congress left behind when it skipped town for August:

  • Ironically, any legislation related to Iraq.
  • International trade regulations.
  • Extension of expiring tax cuts.
  • Immigration reform.
  • Medicare prescription drug benefit provisions.
  • And, believe it or not, the ever-popular earmarks for Congress’ pet projects.

But the real similarity between the two legislative bodies is in the tone of their deliberations.

The politics in both Washington and Baghdad is divisive. In both the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi Parliament, factions endlessly engage in angry disagreements about issues great and small. The non-stop bickering, often conducted in harsh and insulting language, is often based on regional and ideological differences.

So, a bit of advice to the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who keep up a constant stream of complaints about the lack of action by their opposite numbers in the Iraqi Parliament:

“Look in the mirror.”

Oh, and one other bit of advice to the legislators in both capitols:

“Do something!”