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Cutting Off The Nonsense | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Cutting Off The Nonsense

So there are a bunch of proposals in the House and Senate aimed at using Congressional authority to stop Bush's escalation. Some, like the Kennedy-sponsored bill, would seem to provide a good opportunity to at the very least stop the deployment of 20,000 more American troops. But then we see in today's paper that a significant portion of Democrats are still saying "go slow" and, even more distressingly, Bush has said that even if Congress does pass a bill capping the funding for additional troops, he will simply ignore it.

He's the decider, after all. Point being that even if the Dems do get their act together to do the politically and morally correct thing, that is, vote to limit funding and stop the escalation, it won't stop more young Americans beings sent into a war zone to dodge IED's or more Iraqis having guns pointed at them and orders barked in their direction from terrified, skittish, worn down Americans.

A friend on the Hill says that the real fight is going to be in February when the White House sends its latest emergency appropriations request to Congress. As many people have pointed out, the politics of this will be tricky. It seems like the Bush administration is trying to bait the Democrats into recreating something like the stand-off between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich over the federal budget in 1995-1996. when Gingrich refused to submit a revised budget, allowing the appropriations bills to lapse and forcing parts of the government to shut down. That was, of course, an absolute disaster for Gingrich and the Republicans and one can imagine Bush attemping to contrive a similar situation, in which the Democrats looking like they were cutting off funding to the troops.

But the optics aside, let me note just how insane this notion of "cutting off funding to the troops" is. In Rick Perlstein's forthcoming book on Richard Nixon, he quotes Jonathan Schell, who wrote back in the 1970s that Nixon had so succeeded in highlighting and manipulating the plight of the POWs that "people began to speak as though the North Vietnamese had kidnapped 400 Americans and the United States had gone to war to retrieve them." This is essentially what we face now with the "cutting off funding to the troops" canard. After passing through so many causi belli, we have finally arrived at the reductio an abdurdum for the current war: in arguing against cutting off funding for war because of its effect on the troops, the administration and its allies are essentially arguing that we must continue to fund the war in Iraq because....the troops are in Iraq! Of course, it's the other way around: the troops are in Iraq because our government keeps funding the war. If we stop funding the war, then we will withdraw the troops. It's certainly not the case that we'd just keep them in Iraq, but stop sending them food, armor and bullets as the war's supporters would have us believe.

That said, Democrats are still obviously scared they'll be tagged with this ludicrous insult. So the question persists: how to end the war? If Congress doesn't cut off funding, the White House certainly isn't going to end things on its own. So then what? Given that arguably the largest global protests in history did nothing to stop the war from starting, I was fairly convinced that mass protest was, for a complicated variety of reasons, not going to have much of an effect. But the disapproval of Iraq was registered at the ballot box in November and it's seemingly had no effect on the president. What will it take to make him listen? Millions of people in the streets? Massive war resistance by enlisted solidiers? My brother thinks that ultimately Bush will face a rebellion from fellow Republicans, which seems likely, but will he even listen to them?

At some point, members of Congress are going to have stop running away from "cutting off funding" and explain to the American public why it's the only way to stop the war.

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