Senior Congressional Democrats are brushing off
questions about cutting off funding for the Iraq war, and indicate they will
do little to forcefully stop President George W. Bush from sending 21,500 additional
U.S. troops to Iraq.
On Wednesday, after returning from a trip to Iraq, Speaker of the House Nancy
Pelosi sidestepped questions over whether she would try to scuttle Bush's plan
to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, calling it "the one last
chance" that the U.S. war in Iraq will "succeed."
Likewise, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he would focus
his energies on passing a bipartisan, symbolic resolution opposing the so-called
"surge" a move President Bush has already said he would ignore.
One non-binding measure that appears to be gaining traction is sponsored by
a Republican, John Warner of Virginia, and asserts that while Congress "disagrees
with the 'plan' to augment" U.S. troops, legislators should not cut off
or reduce funding for the military presence in Iraq.
"Two years ago, it seemed pretty lonely. Now every politician wants to
be seen on television saying something bad about President Bush's handling of
the war," Dr. Carolyn Eisenberg, an activist and professor of U.S. history
at Hofstra University, told IPS. "The key now is to get [Congress] to do
something instead of hiding behind non-binding resolutions."
Activists are setting their sights on a request President Bush is likely to
submit to Congress next week for an estimated 100 billion dollars more for the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Peace groups would like to see Congress vote against that measure, a move they
see as more important than any progressive piece of legislation introduced in
Congress this year.
"We are looking at a lot of things that are happening in the Congress
right now, from a Senate resolution that opposes an escalation (sending more
troops to Iraq) but will allow a war to continue, to other bills out there that
talk about bringing the troops home and de-funding the war, but which George
Bush can veto," said Nancy Lessing of the group Military Families Speak
"The one thing that we see that can end this war is if Congress votes
no money on the appropriation that's going to come before them," she added.
"Legislation is so that Congress has cover," added Michael McPherson,
executive director of Veterans for Peace. "The bottom line is that we want
the troops to come home and we need it to be defunded. All the other stuff is
just a game."
Previous votes have been extremely lopsided, with the vast majority of the
House and almost every member of the Senate supporting continued funding. Already,
Congress has approved more than 380 billion dollars for the war in Iraq, according
to a report from the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, a non-profit
think tank specializing in issues of peace, justice and the environment.
Activists take some solace, however, in the fact that the Democrats' good showing
at the polls in November means Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha now chairs
a key House of Representatives committee that must approve the president's request.
Murtha, a decorated Marine Corps veteran with close ties to the military establishment,
shocked many in Washington last year when he came out for a "redeployment"
of U.S. troops from Iraq and said the presence of U.S. soldiers there has increased
the level of violence in Iraq rather than calming it.
At a press conference this week, Murtha said he would not approve the latest
request for 100 billion dollars in war funding without "extensive hearings"
that are slated to begin Feb. 17.
"We're going to check every cent that is spent by the United States government,"
Analysts expect Murtha to eventually vote to approve the war funding, but with
At a hearing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in January, Murtha said
those conditions could include that no money be allocated for an escalation
unless the military can meet normal "readiness" levels.
"We should not spend money to send people overseas unless they replenish
the strategic reserve," Murtha told that hearing. "If he wants to
veto the bill," Murtha said of Bush, "he won't have any money."
Tom Andrews, a former Democratic Congressman from Maine who is close to Murtha,
told IPS other conditions for further funding of the Iraq war could include
closing the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and bulldozing
the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Dr. Carolyn Eisenberg of Hofstra believes any increase in members of Congress
voting against funding the war will make an impact.
"People forget that Congress did not vote to stop funding the war in Vietnam
until after all the American troops had already left," Dr. Eisenberg said.
"Instead what happened was that every year more and more members of Congress
voted against the war and that pressured President Richard Nixon to pull more
and more troops out every year."
"When President Nixon took office, there were half a million U.S. troops
in Vietnam," she said. "By the end of his first term it was down to
(Inter Press Service)