Understanding the Next War Money Vote

By David Swanson

If I were a member of Congress, I would make this pledge:

I pledge to vote No on any bill, and to vote No on bringing to the floor for a vote any bill, that includes any funding to extend the occupation of Iraq. This pledge does not prevent me from voting for funding for a withdrawal, although such funding is clearly not needed by the Pentagon. It does not prevent me from voting for funding for veterans’ services or for the reconstruction of Iraq by Iraqis, or for relief for hurricane victims or for cash for avocado growers, or for anything else. But I will only vote for items I approve of if they are in bills that do not contain a single dollar for the continuation of the occupation of Iraq.

I am only confident a single Congress Member (Dennis Kucinich) takes this position. It’s possible that a few or even dozens will act on that position, but they have not said so publicly.

But 90 members of Congress (89 Democrats and Ron Paul) have come surprisingly close to publicly standing for that position. They have taken a Peace Pledge (http://afterdowningstreet.org/peacepledge ) in a letter sent to President Bush. The letter begins:

“Dear Mr. President:

“Seventy House Members wrote in July to inform you that they 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 our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.

“Now you are requesting an additional $45 billion to sustain your escalation of U.S. military operations in Iraq through next April, on top of the $145 billion you requested for military operations during FY08 in Iraq and Afghanistan. Accordingly, even more of us are writing anew to underscore our opposition to appropriating any additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq other than a time-bound, safe redeployment as stipulated above.”

The chief weakness in this is that it expresses support for funding only withdrawal and pretends that a withdrawal could take 14 months. Anything that takes 14 months is, of course, an occupation, not a withdrawal. Still, this statement would seem to bind these congress members to voting No on any bill to fund the occupation of Iraq unless that bill requires that the occupation end by January 2009 and enforces that requirement with the power of the purse.

Other weaknesses are obvious enough. The statement does not mention withdrawal at all, but only “redeployment,” which to many congress members is not code for withdrawal but actually means redeployment to other countries. When you talk about bringing “troops” home and make no mention of the contractors and mercenaries who outnumber them, you open a large loophole. And, while this statement takes the right approach of committing to No votes on bad bills rather than Yes votes on good ones, it does not include any language suggesting that the authors understand the implications and intend ultimately to achieve the only thing that will end congressional funding of the occupation: the blocking of any more Iraq bills. This is the only thing that can work, because a bill funding the occupation while requiring that it end by January 2009 (a bill to meet the signers’ requirements) will be vetoed.

An even greater weakness is the fact that almost all of the signers of this statement have already violated it by voting for a Continuing Resolution funding additional months of occupation with no strings attached. Will they violate it again or stand by their word? Will their constituents make them feel any pressure to stand by their word?

The Democratic leadership (not among the 90 peace pledgers) is apparently planning to wait until just after the hypocritical militaristic hoopla of a Veterans Day with marches around the country banning marching by anti-war veterans. Sometime next week, they are expected to push for a bill in the House that would give Bush and Cheney money to occupy Iraq, but include a nonbinding request for a plan to “redeploy” by Christmas of 2008. (They’ve switched the date to December 15th, but tend to talk about it as Christmas, presumably in order to define the occupation of a Muslim nation in Christian terms, very helpful). The bill is expected to allow new soldiers to be sent to Iraq during the coming year-long “redeployment.” It is expected to say nothing about contractors and mercenaries, and nothing about not attacking Iran. Troops could be “redeployed” to Qatar, UAE, Iran, or anywhere else in the expanding empire.

Here is draft language:

“The American people continue to demand a New Direction in Iraq. This war – now lasting nearly five years, longer than World War II – has cost Americans too much, in terms of lives, dollars, and our reputation around the world. The House will soon vote on legislation to change the direction of President Bush’s failed Iraqi policy: require the President to redeploy our troops, while providing our troops in harm’s way with the resources they need. President Bush has asked Congress for an additional $200 billion for Iraq. The House will instead vote on a $50 billion package, instituting a redeployment timeline, and other critical directives aimed at transitioning our role in Iraq and bringing our troops home. At current rates of expenditures, the additional funds last only four months. The bill will require the immediate start of the redeployment of U.S. forces with a goal for completion of the redeployment by December 15, 2008. In addition to an immediate redeployment start, the legislation:

-Requires the President to provide Congress, within 60 days of enactment, with a plan to complete the redeployment by December 15, 2008;

-Prohibits deployment of U.S. troops to Iraq who are not fully trained and fully equipped;

-Changes the mission of U.S. forces in Iraq to: a) diplomatic and force protection; b) targeted counterterrorism operations; and c) limited support to Iraqi security forces;

-Includes an extension to all U.S. government agencies and personnel of the current prohibitions in the Army Field Manual against torture.

“This Congress will continue to fight for change to President Bush’s 10-year, trillion dollar war. Democrats are committed to bringing our troops home soon, repairing the readiness of our military and refocusing our efforts to fight terrorism around the world.

“Congressional Republicans who have continued to support the President’s war will have a choice to make: keep voting to run out the clock on the President’s term in order to make this failed policy the next President’s responsibility, or stand with the American people and vote for a New Direction in Iraq.”

Yet again, this looks, sounds, and smells like a pro-war anti-war bill. It funds the occupation for additional months, requires Bush to begin a withdrawal (something the worst year of Army recruiting since Vietnam compels him to do anyway), and asks him for a plan to do something everyone knows he won’t do. This is a bill that will be vetoed if it clears the Senate. The important question is who will vote for the no-strings-attached bill that will follow it. But a strong indication on that will be who votes for this one.

According to the Associated Press, we can count on at least Lynn Woolsey (along with Dennis Kucinich):

“While the measure was expected to pass the House, some Democrats said they would still reject it because the December 2008 date was nonbinding. ‘It doesn’t matter if we’re voting to send the president $50 billion or $50,000, this Congress should only pass funding bills for Iraq that are used to fully fund the safe and orderly withdrawal of our brave men and women from Iraq, and bring them home to their families,’ said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.”

That’s two. What about the other 88? Can we count on them? And if we cannot, why should we ever take their word seriously again?

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