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Vermont resolutions against Iraq war derailed
The bipartisan betrayal

July 8, 2005 | Page 6

IN MARCH of this year, voters in 50 Vermont towns pushed the state onto the national stage by passing local resolutions opposing the war and calling on the state legislature to review the use of the Vermont National Guard in Iraq.

Three months later, a legislature resolution to initiate public hearings on the Guard deployments died--at the hands of bipartisan maneuvers in the Vermont House.

From the start, backers of the antiwar measure made a series of compromises. All references to Iraq were removed from the resolution. The commission established by the bill would have had a restricted mission to look mainly at Guard readiness, with minimal public hearings.

Even this would not satisfy pro-war forces, however. On the eve of the final vote, Guard officials (prompted by the Pentagon) called several House members threatening the closure of Vermont's Air National Guard base if the resolution passed.

Democratic Rep. Tim Jerman said on the House floor that "any threat, real or perceived, to the operation of the Air National Guard is unacceptable," before voting to kill the bill. Another Democrat, Rep. Jim Condon, introduced an amendment to reduce the legislation to simply praising the Guard's military service. Then, the substantial Democratic majority in the House fractured to join Republicans to defeat the measure 91-40.

The office of leading Democrat, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, seems also to have participated in killing the resolution. The State Democratic House Majority leader acknowledged that a Leahy staffer spread the "regrettable" message that if the resolution passed, it would aid the Republicans in winning Vermont's U.S. House seat in next year's election.

Unfortunately, the hundreds of antiwar activists who initially passed the town initiatives did not carry their grassroots antiwar protest to the legislature. Widespread opposition in Vermont to the war was left untapped by a lobbying approach that bypassed grassroots action and substituted a conservative "inside" strategy of denying that the resolution was about bringing the Guard home from an unjustified war. This attempt to avoid controversy helped undermine the antiwar motivation that led to the town votes in the first place.

In the absence of strong pressure from the antiwar movement, the majority Democrats would not back the popular resolution.

This is supposedly because of Pentagon pressure and the desire not to seem anti-troop. The better explanation of bipartisan opposition, though, was that public hearings and further attention to the war posed a threat to both parties' pro-war positions. The mainstream parties that recently voted 100-0 in the U.S. Senate to fund a war that most Americans call a mistake didn't want to open any doors to the antiwar movement.

In the end, neither party dared allow even a limited opening for public debate since they both support deployment of the National Guard to Iraq.
Paul Fleckenstein, Burlington, Vt.

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