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WHAT WE THINK
The real antiwar opposition is outside Washington
The Democrats' plan to (not) end the war

March 16, 2007 | Page 3

CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS have finally responded to the voters' mandate in the 2006 election with a proposal about the U.S. war on Iraq. Their plan? Keep the war going until the next election in the fall of 2008.

That deadline gives Bush political cover to seek funding to continue the war until 2009, when his successor will take office.

It was left to a protester to challenge the Democrats in a way that the Washington media elite will not. "They're continuing to fund the war, and it's ridiculous if you say you're against the war to keep funding it," said Toby Blome, who organized the small march of antiwar activists to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home in San Francisco on March 11. "It's shocking how little the Democrats are doing to stop this war."

The argument that Congress doesn't have the constitutional authority to end the war is entirely bogus. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that Congress has the right to "declare war," "raise and support armies" in appropriations for up to two years, maintain a navy, and "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers."

As Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive magazine put it, "These powers are numerous, and the authority to 'make all laws' for executing those powers could not be more sweeping."

That's the point Tina Richards, an antiwar activist and mother of a U.S. Marine facing his third deployment in Iraq, tried to make to Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, which controls the purse strings for the military and much else.

In a chance encounter in the hallways of the Capitol, Richards asked Obey why the Democrats haven't acted decisively to end the war. Obey shouted at her in a scene captured on video and posted on the Internet. "We don't have the votes to defund the war, and we shouldn't!" he yelled, denouncing "these idiot liberals" who favored cutting off funds.

Richards responded in an article, "As a citizen, I am confused why the Democrats are working from President Bush's appropriation when his party lost the 2006 election because of the war. The new majority should write their own supplemental budget bill based on the views of the vast majority of Americans, majority of troops in Iraq, and majority of Iraqis--one that ends the war, brings the troops home safely and takes care of them when they return."

The Democrats' reasons for avoiding the question of a funding cutoff is based on electoral calculations. They want Bush and the Republicans to bear the blame for an unpopular war, while preventing the GOP from denouncing them as "soft" in the war on terror.

Journalist David Sirota, formerly the Democrats' spokesperson on the House Appropriations Committee, denounced the party for refusing to respond to the antiwar majority.

"The message from Washington, D.C., to all of us out here in the heartland is very clear: Our government is the exclusive gated community of Big Money interests, their appointed pawns in Congress, and a select group of self-declared 'experts' in the media and at think tanks (which are, of course, funded by many of those same Big Money interests)," he wrote.

"Inside this gated community, actually listening to or shaping policy on behalf of the vast majority of Americans is considered either laughably outdated or disgustingly unsavory...This is why, months after being elected to the majority on an antiwar mandate, we have a congressional Democratic Party that still refuses to do anything to end--or even slow down--the war. Because underneath all the platitudes and rhetoric, Washington, D.C., is a place that hates democracy."

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THE DEMOCRATS' cowardice, in turn, gives political oxygen to apologists for the war who argue against an immediate withdrawal. But the stay-the-course and get-out-when-things-improve arguments don't hold water.

Consider the main case against a pullout from Iraq now: that it would "abandon" U.S. troops in the field and fail to show the support necessary for troop morale.

The idea that a vote to cut off war funding would suddenly mean that soldiers in Iraq would be left without gasoline for their Humvees is nonsense. Congress would be voting to cut off funds for the war in Iraq, not to abolish the Department of Defense and close down the Pentagon.

Another familiar argument--that Congress must continue war funding to "support our troops"--is simply obscene in light of the Walter Reed Medical Center horror show, where wounded Iraq vets receive substandard care, often lie in filth and routinely get lost in a bureaucratic maze. Given the $141 billion likely to be spent on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 alone--more than $385 million per day--this treatment of the wounded veterans is even more disgusting.

There's another widely used argument against bringing the troops home now: that Iraq would be plunged into ethnic and sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Arabs against Kurds.

In fact, the U.S. occupation has created a political system based on sectarian policies. The current U.S. troop surge exacerbates the civil war in several ways--by driving Sunni insurgents into greater attacks on Shia civilians, by allowing the Shia-dominated government to run death squads that target Sunnis, and by targeting Shia militias who are often the only protection against suicide bombers from Sunni extremist groups. The Kurds, meanwhile, who have functioned as a de facto independent state under U.S. protection since the 1991 Gulf War, act as accomplices to U.S. armed forces.

Then there's the proposed law on Iraqi oil production--written by the U.S. and Western oil companies--which would strengthen the tendency toward sectarian and ethnic divisions by allocating oil revenue on a regional basis, while reserving a huge share of profits for transnational companies.

It's oil, of course, that led the U.S. to construct permanent bases in Iraq soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The reason there's no exit strategy now is that the U.S. never planned to leave, but aimed to install a garrison as the basis for further "regime changes" in the Middle East--most importantly, in Iran.

The White House is still desperately clinging to that goal--this time by hyping Iran's nuclear program and claiming that Tehran is aiding the Iraq insurgency.

This leads to a further argument: that the U.S. must stay in Iraq to prevent an "outside power"--Iran--from becoming dominant in the region. In plain English, that means that another "outside power"--the U.S.--must stay in Iraq in order to dominate the Middle East. The Democrats, by refusing to confront Bush over funding for the Iraq war, only make it easier for the White House to launch a wider military attack against Iran.

Strip away the rhetoric, and the U.S. troops have no reason to be in Iraq other than to grab the country's oil and use its territory as a launching pad for further military attacks.

That's why the antiwar movement must reject the Democrats' maneuvers. The protests set for March 17 in Washington and cities around the U.S. are an opportunity for the antiwar majority to make its demands known--an immediate end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Now means now.

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