Democrat Leaders Cooperate with Bush on War Expansion


–   Woolsey and Nadler Bills Most Forceful but Likely to Die Without
Massive Grassroots Pressure

By Nick Mottern, Director,

In spite of protestations about the Bush Administration’s hike in troop levels in Iraq, the Democratic Congressional leadership is essentially cooperating through inaction with the escalation and the expansion of the war in Iraq and the opening of the war against Iran.

The Democratically-controlled House, which in its first three days passed legislation embodying the recommendations of the 911 Commission, was, as of Jan. 18, at this writing, unwilling to move ahead immediately on any of the legislation before it that would effectively prevent escalation in U.S. generated violence in the region.  (More on this proposed legislation later.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, came to the January 4 opening of Congress knowing that Congressional Democrats have been charged by the electorate with taking immediate action to start bringing U.S. troops out of Iraq.   Yet their package of legislation for immediate action astoundingly included nothing on Iraq, which arguably is the most important issue facing the United States.

The Democrats have had plenty of time to seize the initiative on Iraq and to outline a plan for withdrawal.

In October, former Senator George McGovern and Professor William Polk published “Out of Iraq” (Simon & Schuster Paperbacks), which provides not only a well-reasoned argument for troop withdrawal but a detailed outline of steps that can be taken to safe-guard U.S. forces and Iraqis during withdrawal.  The plan also offers steps that must be taken to rebuild Iraq and assist Iraqis whose lives have been devastated by the invasion and occupation.  On December 5, the Iraq Study Group issued a report that could also have provided the Democrats with arguments supporting withdrawal despite its overall support of U.S. military supremacy in the Middle East.

In the month of December press leaks made it clear that President George W. Bush intended to increase troops levels in Iraq.  Still the Democratic leadership remained silent.

On January 10, as anticipated, Mr. Bush announced escalation of the Iraq War, notably the introduction of 21,500 additional troops.  He also announced that the United States would take military action as necessary against Iran and Syria to prevent them from supporting the resistance in Iraq.  On January 11, it became known that,  just prior to Mr. Bush delivering his speech, U.S. troops, with his approval it was later reported,
had attacked an Iranian diplomatic office located in northern Iraq,  stolen records and computers and kidnapped at least six Iranian officials. During this time period, it was reported that a second U.S. naval strike force had entered waters off Iran.

The Democrats appear to be in disarray.  Congressional Democrats who have long advocated withdrawal from Iraq and a deescalation of violence in the region have found no concrete support from their leaders.

This disarray was disturbingly evident at the January 12 forum chaired by war opponents Congresswomen Lynn Woolsey, D-CA, Barbara Lee, D-CA, and Maxine Waters, D-CA, for the purpose of reviewing the McGovern-Polk plan for withdrawal.

Toward the end of the forum, Congresswoman Corrine Brown, D-FL , said to Senator McGovern,  Professor Polk and retired General William Odom, who was also asked to testify:

“When I listened to the President the other night, I had the impression that he is expanding the war, not just additional troops but expanding where they’re going and what they’re doing without any discussion of the Congress.  And my question is that we’ve got our head in the lion’s mouth, and we’re discussing how to get out of it, but as we discuss this, as the American people discuss this, the president is moving forward.  What can we do? “

Ms. Brown was expressing concerns voiced directly and indircctly by other Congresspeople attending the forum that President Bush might well increase violence in Iraq and carry the United States into war with Iran and/or Syria without paying any mind to Congressional wishes.  It was very apparent that Congress is way behind the curve of executive branch war-making activity.  It was not surprising that her question: “What can we do?” brought instant applause from the more than 100 attending the forum, many peace workers.

Former Senator McGovern responded to Congresswoman Brown:

“On this question of what  Congress can do, I have long believed that we’ve gotta get back to reasserting what the Constitution intended, that the war-making power resides in the Congress.  The president can ask for a declaration of war, but it’s up to the  Congress to demand that request and then on a roll-call vote to decide whether we’re going to war.”

At least 10 bills have been introduced in the House and/or the Senate attempting to get Congressional control over war-making power.  There has been no guidance from the Democratic leadership on what legislation, if any, will be favored or when action will be taken, except for the very weakest initiative.

This is a non-binding resolution, S. Con. Res. 2, being sponsored by Sens. Joseph Biden, D-DE,  Carl Levin, D-MI, and Chuck Hagel, R-NE, that, at this writing, is expected to say simply that the Bush troop escalation is not in the national interest.  Action on this is expected sometime the week of January 22.  Whether intended by the Senate leadership or not, the debate and voting on this lowest common denominator may well drain away energy and interest from stronger measures that have been introduced in both houses.

In the House there are at least four bills that seek to prevent escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq.  One of the strongest in this category, H.R. 353, introduced by Cong. Edward Markey, D-MA, prohibits using funds for increasing U.S. forces in Iraq above the number that existed as of January 9, 2007, unless there is authorization of Congress.

There are at least four bills in the House that call for outright withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.  One of the strongest of these appears to be H.R. 455, introduced January 12 by Cong. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, which says that the only use that can be made of any money that has been or will be appropriated for the Iraq War will “the safe and orderly withdrawal of the United States Forces from Iraq pursuant to a schedule that provides for the commencement of the withdrawal not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this Act and completion of the withdrawal not later than December 31, 2008.”

And the bill says that no money, including money already appropriated may be used to increase the U.S. troops in Iraq.  Money can be used for protection of U.S. forces pending their withdrawal; providing help to “Iraqi security forces and international forces in Iraq”
or providing “economic and reconstruction assistance”.  These later points mirror recommendations in the McGovern-Polk book as well as requests for peace workers.

Mr. Nadler outlined the bill at the forum and asked the panel their opinions.  Senator McGovern said: “I’d endorse that all the way.”  General Odom said he would not oppose it, and: “I’d love to see what happens if you do it.”

On January 17, Cong. Woolsey introduced a similar and more comprehensive bill, H.R. 508, that would require that six months from passage all U.S. forces will be “withdrawn from Iraq and returned to the United States or redeployed outside the Middle East.”  It also calls for withdrawal of U.S. mercenary forces under contract to the Pentagon in the same time period.  The bill would prohibit money that has been or will be appropriated from being used to deploy troops to Iraq.  Among other provisions is prohibition against permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.  The bill, which embodies a number of the ideas in the McGovern-Polk plan, also attemps to keep U.S.  firms from gaining control of Iraq’s oil before Iraq has achieved self-determination.

In the Senate, in addition to the Biden/Levin/Hagel resolution, three bills have been introduced to push for withdrawal and/or blocking escalation.   S. 121, introduced January 4 by Sen. Russ Feingold D-WI, simply states that “It is the policy of the United States to redeploy United States forces from Iraq by not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this act” but supports keeping forces there for “targeted counterterrorism activities” to train Iraqi troops and protect U.S. “infrastructure and personnel”.  The bill would require the Administration to present a plan for doing this not later than six months after enactment of the legislation.  The bill makes no mention of prohibition in the use of funds for occupation or escalation.  Senator Feingold has said he intends to introduce a stronger bill in the next few weeks that deals with funding.

S. 287, introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy D-MA, prohibits the use of funds for any escalation in U.S. military forces beyond the number existing in Iraq on January 9, 2007.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-CT, has introduced S. 308 that, his website says, “would limit the President’s authority to escalate U.S. military involvement in Iraq absent a new Congressional authorization to do so.”  The bill does not call for witdrawal of troops but would cap the number in Iraq on Jan. 16, 2007

Remarkably, there was only one bill on Iran, H.J. Res. 14, a joint resolution that would be passed by the House and the Senate that says no current law “shall be construed to authorize the use of military force by the United States against Iran” and that Congress must approve any use of military force against Iran unless there is “a national emergency created by attack by Iran or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran” against the United States.

Although action could be taken immediately on any of these tougher measures, the prospect is for Congress to wait to hear Mr. Bush’s State of the Union message on January 23, then wait for his budget in early February and then wait for hearings in the House Appropriations Committee later in February.  Cong. John Murtha, D-PA, said at the forum mentioned above that he wants to put restrictions on how Iraq funds are used, but it is not clear what these will be.

By this time, a large portion of the additional troops will be in Iraq, and  the stronger legislation may well die in committee.  Congresswoman Woolsey and others are looking toward wide-spread, intensive grass-roots pressure to keep this from happening.

One might argue that the Democratic leadership has not acted decisively on withdrawal from Iraq because Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid need a break-in period.  But, since they are highly experienced in the Congress, one might alternatively argue that they and the vast majority of the Congress, support the idea that the United States has to remain militarily dominant in the Middle East and use that force to dominate politics there.   This certainly was the underlying theme of the remarks of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY at a press conference January 17, upon her return from Iraq.

At the forum, Cong. Jim McDermott D-WA asked the panelists: “It seems like the oil in Iraq is the central issue…Has it always been about oil?

Senator McGovern responded:

“Congressman, I don’t know exactly what percentage of the administration’s intestest is in oil and what percentage is in other factors. I will try to answer your question with another question.  Is there anybody in this room who thinks we would have spent $500 billion dollors going to war in Iraq and sacrificing three thousand of our  best young people if Iraq had been producing watermelons instead of oil.”

And he said:

“I doubt if we’ve ever had a president and vice president more drenched in oil than the two who have been running our country for the last six years.”  Note that he said “more drenched”.  (Michael Klare’s “Blood and Oil” [Henry Holt & Co.] gives a good history of oil and U.S. Middle East policy.)

The Democrat leadership may hope to get an advantage over Mr. Bush by critizing his actions but not moving effectively to stop them; it is becoming more clear that they are willing to accept blood with their oil and their politics.  Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney seem to be confident this is true.   Both said on news shows on Sunday, January 14, and since then that Congress cannot stop them in escalating troop levels or in any other war initiative.

Elaine Hills, who reports periodically to colleagues on the numbers of people killed and wounded in Iraq, notes that between January 5, the day after Congress went to work and January 13, the following had been killed:

Sgt. Aron Blum, 22, Tucson, AZ
Spc. Raymond Mitchell III, 21, West Memphis, AZ
Sgt. Timothy Weiner, 35, Tamarac, FL
Air Elizabeth Loncki, 23, New Castle, DE
Air Daniel Miller Jr., 24, Galesburg, IL
Sgt. Wayne Rees, 36, Nottingham, UK
Cpl. Stephen Raderstorf, 21, Peoria, AZ
Spc. Eric Caldwell, 22, Salisbury, MD
Pvt. Ryan Berg, 19, Sabine, TX
Pvt. Ming Sun, 20, Cathedral City, CA
Sgt. James Wosika, 24, St. Paul, MN
Pvt. Alexander Green, 21, Warrington, UK

And she reported:

49 were seriously wounded and maimed.
71 were returned to the civil war.

523 Iraqi sisters and brothers were killed.