That Was an Antiwar Vote?
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
and JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
Has the end of America's war on Iraq been brought closer by the recent vote in the House of Representatives? On March 23, the full House voted 218 to 212 to set a timeline on the withdrawal of US troops, with September 1, 2008, as the putative date after which war funding might be restricted to withdrawal purposes only. It's not exactly a stringent deadline. It only requires Bush to seek Congressional approval before extending the occupation and spending new funds to do so.
On Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi's website we find her portrait of what US troops will be doing in Iraq following this withdrawal or "redeployment," should it occur late next year on the bill's schedule. "US troops remaining in Iraq may only be used for diplomatic protection, counterterrorism operations and training of Iraqi Security Forces." But does this not bear an eerie resemblance to Bush's presurge war plan? Will the troops being redeployed out of Iraq even come home? No, says Pelosi, as does Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. These troops will go to Afghanistan to battle al Qaeda.
So the bill essentially adopts and enforces Bush's war plan and attendant "benchmarks" as spelled out in his January 10 speech. On March 27, the Senate voted 50-48 to start withdrawal in March 2008, said schedule being nonbinding on the President. At any rate, Bush has promised to veto all schedules for withdrawal coming out of Congress. Meanwhile the war goes on, with a supplemental, Democrat-approved $124 billion, more than Bush himself requested. As Congress considers the half trillion dollar FY 2008 Pentagon budget, there is no sign that the Democratic leadership will permit any serious attack on further war funding.
Thus when it comes to the actual war, which has led to the bloody disintegration of Iraqi society, the deaths of up to 5,000 Iraqis a month, the death and mutilation of US soldiers every day, nothing at all has happened since the Democrats rode to victory in November courtesy of popular revulsion in America against the war. Bush's reaction to this censure at the polls was to appoint a new commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to oversee the troop surge in Baghdad and Anbar province. The Democrats voted unanimously to approve Petraeus and now they have okayed the money for the surge. Bush hinted that he would like to widen the war to Iran. Nancy Pelosi, chastened by catcalls at the annual AIPAC convention, swiftly abandoned all talk of compelling Bush to seek congressional authorization to make war on Iran.
Although nothing of any significance actually happened on March 23, to read liberal commentators one would think we'd witnessed some profound upheaval, courtesy of Nancy Pelosi's skillful uniting of the various Democratic factions. What she accomplished in practice was the neutering of the antiwar faction. In the end only eight Democrats (plus two Republicans) voted against the Supplemental Appropriation out of opposition to the war. The balance of 202 no votes came from Republicans who opposed Pelosi's bill as anti-Bush and antiwar. So, in Congress 420 representatives officially have no problem with the war in Iraq continuing until the eve of the next election. Ten are foursquare against it, which is more or less where Congress has always been, in terms of committed naysayers.
Antiwar forces in Congress are now weaker. Take Sam Farr of Santa Cruz and Peter DeFazio of Eugene, both Congressmen with large progressive constituencies. In the last Republican-controlled Congress they were stout opponents of the war, voting against authorization to invade and money for the war thereafter. No longer. Pelosi handed Farr bailout money for his district's spinach growers and DeFazio got funding for schools and libraries. Who knows? Perhaps a few dollars of the latter will go to wheelchair access for the paraplegics who will come home from Iraq over the next sixteen months, maimed in the war for which DeFazio just voted more money.
Seeking to explain his yes vote for Pelosi's war-funding bill, Farr issued a press release saying, "This bill brings our troops home." But he also told the San Francisco Chronicle, "They want to go gung-ho. They want to escalate in Iraq. So what would our 'no' votes mean?"
Mr. Farr, they would have meant more votes against the war, and had there been four more holdouts against Pelosi's palm-greasing, these no votes would have monkey-wrenched her bill, thus demonstrating that it is impossible to get a majority in the House of Representatives to endorse a piece of fakery designed to deceive the very people who put the Democrats back in power.
The real antiwar movement proved itself incapable of pressuring House Democrats to hold out. The January 27 demonstration organized by United for Peace and Justice did involve active lobbying of Democrats to hold their feet to the fire, but the demo itself was really a Bush-bashing session, with scant reminders that Bush's war has been and continues to be a bipartisan project.
Tom Matzzie, the Washington director of MoveOn, said after the March 23 vote, "Bush is our worst enemy and our best ally." In other words, when Bush savaged Pelosi's bill with accusations that it gives aid and comfort to the enemy, he cemented Democratic support for it. The focus stays always on Bush, over whom MoveOn will never have influence, as opposed to Democrats, whom MoveOn could have pressured with its three millionstrong email list. But rather than rousing its members to accuse Pelosi of enabling the war, MoveOn carefully limited the available options in polling its members. It only asked whether they were for, against or not sure about war funding as dealt with in her bill.
MoveOn could have phrased it another way: Do you support the Pelosi plan (fully describing it); do you support the Barbara Lee plan (funding exclusively for gradual withdrawal of US troops); do you reject war funding altogether?
Will Congressional opposition to the war now get stronger, anchored by Pelosi's bill? Not likely. The window of opportunity for that flew open right after the election, when antiwar forces roared in outrage after being snubbed by Pelosi and Reid, who omitted the war and the Patriot Act from their must-do agenda. Instead, the Democratic leadership chose merely to appear to oppose the war while continuing to fund it. This they have now achieved, amid the satisfied cheers of the progressive sector.
And Now a Word of Clarification from Senator Joe Biden
Chris Matthews, Hardball, March 28, 2007
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David.
Letes go now to Senator Joe Biden, Democratic presidential candidate and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Biden, can Congress stop the war or just help start one?
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It can help stop one. It can help start one, but it can also help stop one, and it can help change the direction, Chris. And what people donet read about the Senate resolution, the Senate bill we passed, it sets a goal just as the same goal set out by the Baker-Hamilton commission, the Iraq Study Group, to have combat troops out by March of e08, except for those left behind to protect the borders, to protect our troops, train Iraqis and go after al Qaeda. It is not as the president portrays it.
MATTHEWS: Well, you say a guideline. I thought it was an exit date.
BIDEN: It is a goal. It says thates the date picked, assuming military commanders believe it can be met. Thates what the Senate side says. The House side sets an absolute date.
The bottom line here is, Chris, that the presidentes policy, the Bush-McCain doctrine, just will not function. Think of what the basic premise is. Ites theyere going to establish a strong central government thates a democracy. Thates not going to happen in your lifetime or mine. Weere trying to redefine the mission to enable us to get to the point where we have a political solution everybody calls for, but no one but me and Les Gelb have offered a specific political solution. Give local control over the local fabric of their daily lives with a weak central government. Until we move toward that direction, there is no possibility of us doing anything but trading a dictator for chaos.
MATTHEWS: If the president were to sign some compromise between the House and the Senate versions of these exit dates, would we pull our troops out by next summer? If the president signed a bill, somewhereothat would effectuate a date of somewhere between March and August, somewhere like July or June, would that mean that we would have to leaveoin other words, does this measure really offer an alternative policy, which is, Weere coming out?
BIDEN: Well, it actually does offeroit says we are going to come out unless we have to leave troops a little longer in order to do one of four thingsoone, protect the troops that are there as they are getting out, two, train Iraqi troops, three, provide for taking on al Qaeda in Anbar province, where theyere trying to set up control.
What it really says is, Get out of the civil war. Change the mission, Mr. President. As long as you have us in this middle of a civil war, there is no prospect for success. None.
And youere going to hear from Barry McCaffrey very soon on your program. Iell be dumbfounded if he says anything else.
MATTHEWS: But he also said in the article today in iThe Washington Postioweell hear from him in a few moments, but he said that ites so dangerous for the government officials in Iraq, the people we put up there in that new governmentoweeve stood up that new governmentothat they canet walk the streets. Theyell be picked up and killed. And ifoand if...
MATTHEWS: ... canet walk the streets of its own capital, how can we step aside and say, Carry on, boys?
BIDEN: Put it another way. How can we stay if they canet even, after four years, provide enough security in the over 180,000 people weeve trained in their army to protect their members of parliament as they walk around? Thates the other side of the question.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me get this straight...
BIDEN: So the question is here...
MATTHEWS: Hillary Clinton has saidoSenator Clinton, your colleague, has said that she thinks we should remain, keep some troops in there after we pull our troops out. I donet understand that. Are we going to get out of that country or are we going to have a permanent base in that country?
BIDEN: What weere talking about doing...
MATTHEWS: Whates your policy?
BIDEN: My policy is what I set out a year-and-a-half ago, which is to set a goal of getting out by March of e08. Make it a local referendum. Let the Iraqi constitution work. Give that Shia control over their areas, the Sunnis over theirs, and the Kurds over theirs in terms of their local police forces. Have a weak central government that controls the army, the distribution of resources and their borders. And thates the way in which you begin to separate the parties.
Never in history has there been a case, Chris, when therees been a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence that anything other than a dictator, an occupation or a federal system has ended it. We need a federal system here.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much, Senator Joe Biden, whoes the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a candidate for president.
Those Laptop Bombardiers
From: "Stephen Zielinski"
Date: March 24, 2007 8:35:16 AM PDT
Subject: Re: Where are the Laptop Bombardiers Now?
To the Editors,
Alexander Cockburn wrote:
"Sometimes I dream of them, - Friedman, Hitchens, Berman - like characters in a Beckett play, buried up to their necks in a rubbish dump on the edge of Baghdad, reciting their columns to each other as the local women turn over the corpses to see if one of them is her husband or her son."
I believe Cockburn credits that lot with too much good sense. They'd never notice those women if they were reciting their prose. Expecting them to notice would be akin to asking a Diva to turn away from her vanity mirror.
Keep up the good work!
Subject: laptop bombardiers
Date: March 24, 2007 5:39:13 PM PDT
hi alex, good article, buto you noted in your lead, apropos adverswe deeds wrought by US on that day in history, that the U.S. rejected the Treaty of Versailles? yes, of course it did. but the whole reason we're in this mess is because of the Treaty of Versailles. i mean maybe you have a different interpretation of world war one than io but that was a slave treaty put on a country germany who had a gun put to its head to accept full guilt for a war where others took no responsibility for the role they played. it was a war that never had to take place except for the machinations of france and russia with great britain tagging along into a mindless hideous onslaught. (america's entry into it, only prolonged the slaughter). the versailles treaty which was then imposed on germany by GB and France and some minor allies led to world war II which was also a mindless, needless slaughter. the whole shebang that we are going through can be directly related to the treaty of versailles if one wanted to make a narrow argument. that old historian
Note: a version of the first item in this column ran in the print edition of the Nation that went to press last Wednesday.
Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair are the authors of End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate (CP/AK Press).