How Congress Will End the Occupation

By David Swanson

Public pressure on Congress to end the occupation of Iraq resulted in a fundamental breakthrough on July 19th when 70 congress members sent a letter to the president. The key sentence in the letter was the first one:

“We are writing to inform you that we will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.”

Now, at best that means ending the occupation in another 17 months. It says nothing about contractors or mercenaries or who gets to keep the oil or what happens to the 75 military bases. There’s no clause speeding up the withdrawal should Congress remove Bush from office early. There’s no explanation of what “protection” means. Et cetera. But I think most such objections are beside the point. Without a U.S. military presence in Iraq, U.S. corporations will lose their unfair advantages and their ability to seize Iraq’s oil. The military bases will belong to Iraq. If Bush is impeached and removed, and if that speeds up the end of the occupation, this letter won’t get in the way. And “protection” is not being used here as a loophole to extend the occupation; “protection and safe” is just verbiage that congress members always put in sentences that contain the word “troops.” The key word is “redeployment.”

That’s also the one word that is a legitimate concern. When you “redeploy” troops from Iraq, do any of them get to come home, or are they all redeployed somewhere? This is the one point we will need to keep a careful eye on, but the fact is that when congress members want to say withdrawal, even if they really mean withdrawal, they say “redeployment”.

Still, you might ask, what’s so great about this proposal to end the occupation a year and a half from now? We’ve seen better proposals than this in Congress before and with more support behind them. Yes, but that misses the whole point of the commitment taken by the signers of the letter. Theirs is not just a positive commitment, but a negative one. They are not just committing to support a good bill as cover before running off to vote another quarter trillion dollars for genocide. They are committing to vote AGAINST any bill that funds the occupation without ending it by January 2009. After all, we all know that any bill ending the occupation by any date is going to be vetoed, if it even makes it through the Senate, just as any useful bill in any area of legislation is going to be vetoed. What matters is not what your congress member will vote for, but what they will vote against. A pledge to preserve the Fourth Amendment would have come in handy a few weeks back.

Well, you may then reasonably ask, what’s the point? Why not just announce that there will be no more bills to fund the occupation? That, I believe, is exactly what Speaker Nancy Pelosi should do. But, given that she has not done that yet, what should other members of Congress do? The most useful thing they could do would be to sign a pledge in support of the letter already signed by 70 of their colleagues ( http://pdamerica.org ). In doing so, they are not themselves committing to cutting off the funds for the occupation. They are expressing a willingness to fund it as long as it ends by January of 2009. But the cumulative result of their commitments will mean a cutting off of the occupation funding. And the process of doing so will have an advantage over that of a simple announcement from Pelosi; namely, it will identify for the public which members of Congress are with us in the cause of peace and which are not.

Over the past seven and a half months, Pelosi has addressed the split in her caucus between the progressives and the reactionaries, or “blue dogs”, by siding with the blue dogs and badgering the progressives into funding the war. This has given cover to the blue dogs and other pro-war Democrats. Nobody knows who they are. Anger has primarily been directed at the progressives who betrayed their principles and at Pelosi who demanded that they do so. A push in Congress for a bill that ends the occupation in 17 months would isolate and identify those Democrats, not to mention Republicans, for whom that is too fast. And, in fact, working through the rest of August to persuade more Congress Members to take the pledge for peace ( http://pdamerica.org ) will increase the impact.

To see why this matters, a little House of Representatives math helps. Of the 70 congress members who signed the letter, 1 is a Republican, 2 are Democrats who don’t get to vote (from the colonies of Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands), and 67 are voting Democrats. That leaves 168 voting Democrats and 202 Republicans unaccounted for. To get to a majority of 218 without the letter signers, the Democrats would need 50 Republican votes. But any bill bad enough to get that many Republican votes is going to lose additional Democratic votes. On the other hand, a bill that satisfied the demand of the letter and had the support of Pelosi would quickly pick up the support of most Democrats and a small number of Republicans. It might not pass, but it looks right now like the better option from the point of view of Pelosi, assuming her overriding goal to be passing a bill.

What could improve our chances, not of passing a bill but of guaranteeing that no bill can pass that does not end the occupation, would be adding to the count of 70 congress members taking a pledge for peace ( http://pdamerica.org ). Numerous Democratic activist groups have devoted the month of August to protesting Republican Congress Members’ support for the war. But it’s not at all clear what these Republicans are being asked to do. The whole campaign looks essentially like an effort to turn activists into unwitting participants in a 14-month electoral campaign for Democrats. What if, instead of just protesting Republicans, activists were to demand that Republican and Democratic Congress Members alike take a Pledge for Peace ( http://pdamerica.org ), a pledge not to vote for any funding bills that do not end the occupation by January of 2009? Other peace and justice groups are busy holding rallies this month in support of bills addressing housing, health care, and all sorts of issues, fully aware that any good bills will be vetoed. Instead of or in addition to lobbying Congress Members to sign onto noble but pointless bills for worthy but hopeless causes, citizens can ask them to take the Pledge for Peace ( http://pdamerica.org ).

Of course, if Congress actually passes a bill requiring that Bush end the occupation by January of 2009, and if he actually signs it into law without a signing statement gutting it (a scenario that is highly unlikely, to say the least), we will then have to push Congress as 2009 approaches to acknowledge and act on the fact that Bush is not obeying the law. This would put a big fat impeachment right on top of an election, which would probably give the Democrats a landslide but which they BELIEVE would ruin their chances.

If, in the more likely outcome, Congress proves unable to pass another bill to fund the occupation, forcing Pelosi to announce that Bush needs to use existing funds to bring the troops home, we will then have to throw the biggest party in the nation’s history for Nancy Pelosi and encourage her, thus emboldened, to get on with the impeachments right away.

David Swanson is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America.