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To Bind, or Not to Bind Bush on Iraq

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"This is our first, most immediate and most practical way to affect the president." -- Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, describing the pending Iraq resolution passed through his committee. It's been almost four years since Congress passed the Iraq War Resolution which Bush brushed past anyway in his rush to invade and occupy Iraq, and Congress is set to deliver an even more toothless resolution on Iraq to the floor for a vote. The new document, the Biden-Levin-Hagel resolution - which passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 12-9 with one republican vote from Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska - is a non-binding one which is, in effect, nothing more than an advisory document. It will have even less of an effect on Bush's immediate actions in Iraq than the past one, the IWR, which sought to steer our warmongering commander-in-chief back to the U.N. Security council to give the inspectors more time, and, hopefully, forestall Bush's stated intention to invade Iraq with or without congressional approval. Despite the non-binding nature of the resolution, this one is being forwarded by a Congress which is determined to hold Bush accountable for all of his past and present flaunting of his assumed authority to muckrake with our military in Iraq. In the nearly four years since Congress allowed Bush to attack and overthrow Saddam's regime, there have been no legislative attempts, or otherwise, from the republican majority to rein Bush in and deescalate the occupation, even in the face of the over 3000 American soldiers killed and the tens of thousands wounded in the middle of Iraq's civil war. This will be the first such legislative attempt from Congress which intends to provide a check to the authority to commit forces which Bush has assumed from the relative inaction of Congress. Bush has maintained all along that his ability to deploy troops is his power to use unilaterally, without any prior consent from Congress outside of the original resolution which had an entirely different mandate, and was based on false justifications. In fact, his National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, told Congress last week that he didn't believe Congress would cut off funding and permission for his boss' preemptive escalation, telling them that, "once they get in harm's way, Congress' tradition is to support those troops." However, this Democratically-controlled Congress will not roll over and be a rubber-stamp for Bush's militarism as his republican enablers have been throughout his term. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Monday that, "It will be a very powerful message if a bipartisan majority of the Congress say that they disagree with the increased military involvement in Iraq." The goal of the Democrats in both houses is to get as many republicans as they can to sign on to their bill expressing the 'sense of the Senate' that Bush should not escalate his occupation. Clearly the resolution will have no immediate effect on the troop deployment, which was begun by Bush even before he ended his "listening tour" and decided to escalate over the objections of his generals in the field, Congress, and the American people. That opposition from Americans -- as expressed in the polls, and in their voting to replace Bush's enabling republican majority with Democrats who promised to end the occupation and begin to bring our troops home -- will not suddenly find Bush adhering to their wishes and reversing his course in Iraq. From the president's frequent habit of attaching qualifying 'signing statements' to bills as he approves them which spell out his intention to ignore their letter and intent, Bush has grown accustomed to ignoring laws he disagrees with, even as he puts his signature on them. This non-binding Iraq resolution which came out of committee yesterday will surely get even less attention from Bush than the others he's ignored, much less force him to adhere to it's provisions. But, this legislation is not intended to immediately move Bush off of his pedestal, although it would be nice. This Iraq resolution is an effort by the new Democratic majority to directly assign ownership of the Iraq occupation to Bush. The resolution draws a line which Bush has already crossed over, but it provides the first opportunity Congress has had to confront him legislatively now that the republican wall of opposition is out of the way. Perhaps the best argument for putting forth this resolution is in rebuttal to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind, who spoke in opposition to its passage. "Passage of the resolution would raise the probability that both branches will write off the other when it comes to Iraq," Lugar told the committee. "Congress, having passed such a resolution, would be more likely to believe that it has once and for all demonstrated this is the president's war. The president, confirmed in his policy-making isolation and undergirded by his substantial constitutional powers as commander in chief, may have less incentive to consult with Congress on future Iraq decisions," said Lugar. Lugar also worried aloud that the message the congressional rebuke of Bush's Iraq policy would send to the world would be one of a divided America, shaking whatever confidence they have in the United States and its exercise of power abroad. However, Lugar ignores the urgent need for our country to let the world community know - including the bulk of the original international 'coalition of the willing' who walked away from the quagmire ages ago - that we aren't interested in continuing to add to the chaos and violence in Iraq. If Bush is intent on unilaterally escalating his occupation which the American people told him to end, and vetoes the resolution, Iraq will be firmly established as his personal folly. There has been an unprecedented disregard by the White House for any initiative which is sponsored outside of their own political machine. Consultation for the Bush means that, in his own time, he'll tell you what he's going to do. We've seen just how little regard he has for critics of his Iraq approach who were labeled by his administration as cowards, traitors, and terrorist sympathizers as he campaigned to hold onto his republican majority during the last election. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and primary author of the resolution, described the legislation as quick way to begin what he admitted was going to be a long process to pull Bush back from his insistence on maintaining the unpopular Iraqi regime through the sacrifices of our nation's defenders' lives and livelihoods. Biden advised the committee that Senators have numerous binding amendments and bills which they expect to present for consideration along with this resolution and beyond. "We have a number of constitutionally legitimate alternatives," Biden said. The Biden resolution that will advance to the floor as the first expression of their resolve to hold Bush accountable for his 'Iraq plan' states that, "it is not in the national interest of the United States to deepen its military involvement in Iraq, particularly by increasing the United States military force presence in Iraq." The resolution also advises Bush that Congress expects that, Iraq's political leaders should make the political compromises necessary to end the violence; that there should be greater regional and international support in achieving a political solution and national reconciliation; that elements of the mission of United States forces in Iraq should be to helping ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq, conduct counterterrorism activities, reduce regional interference, and accelerate training of Iraqi troops. Finally, along with the standard recommendation to work for Mideast peace, the resolution says the U.S. should set a timeline for the transfer of responsibility for internal security and the halting of sectarian violence in Iraq to the Government of Iraq and Iraqi security forces. This resolution does not take the depth of concern which animated millions of Americans to the polls in November in opposition to Bush's bloody occupation, and use those passions as a battering ram to bust through the White House's front door. Many voters who cheered the Democrats to victory 8 weeks ago expected that our senators and representatives would be able to immediately tie Bush's hands and order the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, forthwith. Others, more in tune to the realities of our slim majority and the certainty of an Executive veto, were, nonetheless, expecting a no-holds-barred battle of their party's 51 Senators against the 49 republican enablers. But, the Biden resolution is not meant to be the end of the process of Congress reasserting their constitutional role in the deployment of our forces, and the ending of Bush's fiasco; it's very much the beginning. The certain addition of several more republicans in support of the resolution will present the first bipartisan legislative rebuke of the president's Iraq occupation. One thing that Bush can be certain of as this resolution reaches his desk for his consideration, is that, if he ignores it as expected, other more demanding and binding restrictions from Congress will soon follow.
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Ron Fullwood, is an activist from Columbia, Md. and the author of the book 'Power of Mischief' : Military Industry Executives are Making Bush Policy and the Country is Paying the Price

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