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Will Congress stand up to Bush?

February 9, 2007 | Page 3

THE DEMOCRATS may be talking tougher. But when it comes to doing something concrete to stop the U.S. war on Iraq--or even George W. Bush's surge of more than 20,000 soldiers to Iraq--they're falling far short of the expectations millions of people placed in them.

The hope that the Democrats would put the brakes on Bush's escalation and begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is running smack into the reality that both mainstream parties, whatever their disagreement on tactics, are united on the goal of defending and projecting U.S. power abroad.

After Senate Republicans blocked debate on resolutions opposing Bush's troop surge, the Democrats could point fingers and continue to portray themselves as the opposition to Bush's "new way forward" in Iraq. But the vast majority of Democrats had sought only a nonbinding resolution criticizing Bush's war plans, not a real effort to stop them.

They promise to take a tougher stand when Bush demands an expected $100 billion more in funding for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. But this only pushes the confrontation further down the road, after many of the new troops will be in place in Iraq anyway.

And the Democrats have been almost unanimous in supporting Bush's special war spending requests before--to the tune of $380 billion, and that doesn't even count ballooning regular appropriations for the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, at the end of last month, Senate Democrats voted unanimously to confirm Bush's nomination of Gen. David Petraeus--the leading booster of the administration's surge plan in the Pentagon--to be commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

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IF THE Democrats sound antiwar themes now, it's because of pressure from the antiwar majority that expressed itself in the November elections--as well as the worsening crisis in Iraq.

Only six months ago, even with congressional elections around the corner, the Democrats were still hesitant about challenging the White House on Iraq, even rhetorically. A Washington Post survey of the campaigns last August found that "[o]f the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year."

The spiraling catastrophe of the occupation--which caused deepening opposition to Bush's policies, reaching into the U.S. ruling class itself--changed the Democrats' tune for them.

Now, among the 10 Democrats already declared or likely to run for the presidential nomination in 2008, every one at least claims to be against the war. Even the most conservative, Hillary Clinton, went further than John Kerry in saying that, "knowing what she knows now," she would have voted against a resolution giving Bush authorization for the invasion.

But in a situation where even fellow Republicans are turning on the White House, talk is cheap. The Democrats should be held responsible for what they do.

That's why no one should accept the fawning liberal praise for the other early frontrunner for the nomination, Sen. Barack Obama--from, for example, Sam Graham-Felsen of the Nation, who believes Obama, because of his recent proposal on Iraq, "can now be considered the major antiwar candidate."

He is nothing of the sort. Obama is sponsoring legislation that sets a timetable for withdrawal, but with an exit date more than a year away, in March 2008. If that date sounds familiar, it is probably because it matches the recommendations--or, to use the Nation's words, "murky consensus" and "half measures"--of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in its report last December.

Then there are the conditions in Obama's proposal. His bill would keep a certain level of U.S. troops in place to "conduct anti-terrorism activities and train Iraqi forces." And it includes provisions for the not-so-immediate withdrawal to be suspended or otherwise delayed if the Bush administration decides the Iraqi government has met certain "benchmarks."

Other early contenders for the nomination are little better. Secure in the fact that he'll never cast a vote on the issue, John Edwards has called on his former Senate colleagues to get tough over Iraq. But he's every bit as belligerent as Bush when it comes to threatening Iran with being the next stop on the war on terror--or defending Israel's war on the Palestinians.

These "antiwar" Democrats are mouthpieces for sections of the ruling establishment to express a vote of no confidence in the Bush administration and its failure in Iraq. But it's crucial to recognize that this opposition to Bush represents the American ruling class' concern with saving, rather than burying, the U.S. imperial project.

As a party, the Democrats are every bit as committed to that aim as the Republicans. The real challenge to the U.S. war on Iraq won't come from inside Washington. That fact presents a challenge to the antiwar movement--to focus on its real source of power in building on the grassroots opposition to the war, especially within the military itself.

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