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WHAT WE THINK
Why did the Democrats fund the war?

March 30, 2007 | Page 3

TO HEAR George W. Bush tell it, the Democrats in the House of Representatives have surrendered to al-Qaeda.

"The emergency war spending bill they voted for would cut the number of troops below the level our military commanders say they need to accomplish the mission," Bush railed in his weekly radio address. "It would set an artificial timetable for withdrawal that would allow the enemy to wait us out."

After four years of a disastrous occupation, thousands of U.S. soldiers killed and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, Bush is still dishing out the same tired rhetoric that any change of course in Iraq means surrendering to terrorism.

That's why countless people fed up with one-party Republican rule are delighted that the new Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has taken a different stand on Iraq--including setting a specific date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops--even though they know Bush will veto it.

But it's important to take a closer look at the House legislation.

What the Democrats actually voted for was supplemental funding that would continue the war in Iraq for virtually the entirety of Bush's term--while tacking on a date for a pullout of U.S. troops of September 2008.

And the not-so-fine print of the bill spells out how Bush could ignore the various "benchmarks" and requirements for a troop drawdown, as Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies noted.

"It calls for pulling out half the troops from Iraq by August 2008," Bennis wrote in an e-mail message to antiwar activists. "But it exempts whole categories of troops from the withdrawal. Troops 'training the Iraqi military' can stay--currently 6,000, perhaps as many as 20,000."

Troops engaged in "special operations" are also exempt from the pullout--for example, the 20,000 Marines pounding Iraq's Anbar Province. So are soldiers guarding the Green Zone occupation HQ and the U.S. Embassy.

"That means Bush could keep unlimited numbers, perhaps 60,000-80,000 troops, permanently in Iraq--and still be in compliance with the bill," Bennis wrote.

Radical historian Howard Zinn delivered a blistering verdict on the Democrats' proposal. "Ironically, and shockingly, the same bill appropriates $124 billion in more funds to carry the war," Zinn wrote. "It's as if, before the Civil War, abolitionists agreed to postpone the emancipation of the slaves for a year, or two years, or five years, and coupled this with an appropriation of funds to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act."

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AND YET, it was the staunchest antiwar Democrats in Congress who rounded up the votes needed to pass the bill.

Making a deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leading members of the Out of Iraq caucus leaned on other liberals to vote to set the date for withdrawal, but fully fund the war as well.

The Washington Post explained how it happened: "Liberals pledged to deliver the votes needed to pass the supplemental measure, and they did. Four California Democrats--Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey--said they 'could not stand in the way' of the bill, but were voting no."

These four were joined by just four other Democratic representatives--John Lewis of Georgia, Mike McNulty of New York, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Mike Michaud of Maine--who voted "no" on an antiwar basis. Six other Democrats joined with the Republicans in opposing the legislation for setting any date for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Previously outspoken antiwar representatives voted to fund the war, including Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Jerry Nadler of New York--regular speakers at antiwar rallies--and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, sponsor of the proposed End the War in Iraq Act.

Pelosi used a combination of threats--like removing representatives from key congressional assignments--and outright bribes to get the votes she wanted.

For example, Sam Farr of California, who has voted against every war appropriations bill so far, voted "yes" this time--apparently because Pelosi included in the legislation a $25 million aid package for spinach growers in Farr's district who were affected by last year's killer e-coli contamination of their produce.

Pelosi also used antiwar Democrats to provide political cover for her approach. As the Washington Post reported, "Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.), an Iraq war veteran elected in November who was Pelosi's point man in the debate, drew a standing, stomping ovation [in the House] by saying that freshmen like him 'were elected a few months ago on the promise of new leadership, and that's what this bill does...This is our opportunity...our chance to lead.'"

Apologists for Pelosi's strategy argue that by putting the House on record in favor of a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, the political dynamic in Washington will change.

"These progressive lawmakers are true heroes because they are displaying a seriousness about ending the war, rather than merely a seriousness about protesting the war," wrote former Democratic staffer and author David Sirota, in an article criticizing left-wing opponents of Pelosi's legislation.

"This bill, with its binding language to end the war, disproportionately tilts toward the antiwar side when looked at in the context of a Congress whose majority is unfortunately NOT antiwar."

This is the same Sirota who, in a recent article quoted by Socialist Worker, denounced the "congressional Democratic Party that still refuses to do anything to end--or even slow down--the war." Actually, the Pelosi proposal that Sirota praises will do nothing to end, or slow down, the war either.

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HOW CAN the Democrats, who took control of Congress in last November's election on the strength of spreading antiwar sentiment, nevertheless vote to fund the war machine? The reasons go far beyond the political horse-trading and "realism" defended by the likes of Sirota.

The Democrats' vacillation over Iraq reflects the contradictions facing the entire U.S. imperial project--that the U.S. is damned if it does pull its troops out of Iraq, and damned if it doesn't.

The longer the U.S. occupation wears on, the greater the toll on the overburdened U.S. military--and the reality is that politicians don't care much about the horrendous loss of Iraqi lives, while the numbers of U.S. soldiers killed and maimed only began to matter in U.S. politics when Bush's approval ratings tanked and public opinion turned against the war.

But if the U.S. pulls out, it will have suffered an even greater defeat than in Vietnam. That's because while Vietnam was a test of strength in a bid for Cold War global dominance, it wasn't decisive for U.S. imperial designs in Asia and the world. Control of Iraq, by contrast, is central to the U.S. strategy to dominate the Middle East and its energy resources, which are critical to the world economy.

The Democrats' attempt to put war-funding legislation in an antiwar package is a fraud--a rhetorical gesture against an unpopular war would allow Bush to continue the occupation, while postponing the hard decisions confronting the politicians and the Pentagon brass.

This legislative deception underscores--once again--the mistake many leading voices in the antiwar movement made in looking to electing Democrats as the chief vehicle for ending the war.

While the Democrats' Out of Iraq Caucus offered verbal support to the movement, they failed to deliver when they had the opportunity to--a reflection of the fact that they are part of a political party that is as just committed as the Republicans to the maintenance of U.S. imperial power.

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