By David Swanson
Democratic leaders may prefer to claim they tried but failed.
The shortest route to ending the Iraq war (and preventing additional wars) is almost certainly through Congress. Influencing the White House directly is unimaginable, and stopping the war through the courts unlikely. Clearly, Congress is the way to go. But what specifically can Congress do?
How We Got Here
The peace movement lobbied a Republican Congress without success for four years. Then, on November 7, 2006, the American public elected a Democratic Congress in a clear mandate delivered at the polls. Not a single new Republican was elected, and 30 new Democrats were ushered in, with voters overwhelmingly telling pollsters that they were voting against the war; and by "against the war," they meant "against the war," not "against the escalation." Remember, the President's "surge" into Baghdad had not yet been announced.
Voters also appeared to be voting for accountability and possibly for the launching of impeachment hearings as well. Polls prior to the election found that a majority of Americans believed a Democratic Congress would impeach. Candidates who campaigned on the theme of accountability, including Keith Ellison (Dem., Minnesota) who promised impeachment, did well. Polls show that a majority of Americans favor impeachment or wish Bush's presidency were over. Voters in November even booted out a couple of Republicans who had turned against the war, saying that they were voting for a Democratic majority so that the Democrats could investigate the war as well as end it - something a majority of Americans continue to say they want.
Prior to the election, Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi had already ordered the Democrats in the House to oppose impeachment, but she had not ordered them to support the war. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), chaired by Congressman Rahm Emanuel, however, directed most of its financial support to candidates who did not call for ending the war. Of the 22 candidates funded by the DCCC, only 8 won. The rest of the victorious Democratic challengers, many of them strongly opposed to the war, got themselves elected without Emanuel's help.
Halfway Steps in the House
Of course, now that the election is over and the Democratic leadership has heard the people speak so clearly, now that, on January 27th, half a million Americans encircled the Capitol in opposition to the war, now that the new Congress has in its hands the power that the Republicans had a year ago, surely ending the war is at the top of its agenda.
Well, not according to Emanuel's way of thinking, as reported in the Washington Post:
"For the rest of the year, Emanuel says, the leadership hopes to stress energy independence (with fuel-saving efficiency standards for appliances and cars) and a move toward better health care for children. And here's what Emanuel doesn't want to do: fall into the political trap of chasing overambitious or potentially unpopular measures. Ask about universal health care, and he shakes his head... Reform of Social Security and other entitlements? Too big, too woolly, too risky... The country is angry, and it will only get more so as the problems in Iraq deepen. Don't look to Emanuel's Democrats for solutions on Iraq. It's Bush's war, and as it splinters the structure of GOP power, the Democrats are waiting to pick up the pieces."
So, clearly the question before us is not just what Congress can do to end the war, but also how the American public can persuade a Democratic Congress to want to end the war. Most Republican members of Congress still follow White House orders like sheep, and leading House Democrat Emanuel is openly telling the media that he'd just as soon have the war still going on in 2008. The war has cost an estimated 655,000 Iraqi lives and over 3,000 American ones in its first 4 years, with the death rate increasing over time, so by a safe estimate Emanuel has just written off perhaps another few hundred thousand lives for the sake of an electoral strategy.
Prior to the recent Congressional recess, Congressman Jack Murtha proposed that he draft a new bill, agreeing to throw $93 billion or so at the war in the form of another "emergency supplemental" outside the regular federal budget. That may not sound like an anti-war proposal, but it certainly passed for one in Washington, D.C. In fact, Murtha was pilloried by Republicans and much of the media because he proposed including requirements that troops be properly rested, trained, and equipped before being sent to Iraq. Murtha argued that these requirements would force Bush to end his "surge."
In a climate in which opposition to the "surge" had become confused with opposition to the war, Murtha's plan was, amazingly enough, treated as the near equivalent of pacifism. And no strong defense of it emerged from the Democratic leadership. Instead the plan evolved into a proposal to require the President to inform Congress when he was deploying troops lacking adequate rest, training, or equipment. But it is unclear how this would even curtail the present escalation, much less end the war, and there has been no indication of what Congress would do if Bush failed to obey this reporting requirement.
Bizarrely, this whole discussion has taken place without any reference to the fact that, in November 2003, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, which placed limits on the number of days that a member of the Armed Forces could be deployed. Bush signed that bill into law, but added a signing statement announcing his intention to disregard that section. The U.S. Constitution gives the President the power to sign bills into law and enforce them, or to veto them. There is no constitutional middle course. Yet Bush has routinely used signing statements to announce his plans to disregard portions of bills he signs into law. This abuse might be addressed by impeachment proceedings, something the Democrats are not currently considering. But short of addressing this abuse, Congress Members could at least behave as though they were aware of it.
Wholehearted House Actions