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Surge Homeward | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Surge Homeward

Peace groups and members of Congress are crafting creative ideas to counter a Commander-in-Chief who misled us into a catastrophic conflict and now proposes to escalate the war in Iraq.

As the President prepares to escalate (aka "surge") the war in Iraq, the new Democratic Congress and peace activists across the nation are searching for the most effective ways to respond to the continuing Madness of King George. Here is a look at what some legislators, former and current military personnel, and peace groups are doing to end a war that has stretched the military to the breaking point, and sacrificed more than three thousand American men and women to what columnist Paul Krugman calls "the quagmire of the vanities."

•Representative John Murtha has already taken a strong stand in announcing that he will oppose funding for any escalation as Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Murtha told Arianna Huffington that "he wants to ‘fence the funding,' denying the president the resources to escalate the war, instead using the money to take care of the soldiers as we bring them home from Iraq…."

Murtha's stance is critical since the rightwing will wrongly spin (as they have post-Vietnam) that opposition to funding a war is tantamount to not supporting the troops. How best to counter the rightwing political blame game will require hard work and courage in the coming weeks and months.

•In addition to Murtha's stance, Representatives such as James McGovern and Dennis Kucinich--now a Presidential candidate--are also focused on using the power of the purse to end this debacle. Kucinich called for the withholding of funds for future troop deployments after the people spoke against the war so clearly on Election Day, and McGovern introduced the End the War in Iraq Act last session "to prohibit the use of funds to deploy United States Armed Forces to Iraq." While many--especially the still delusional neocons--will try to paint this legislation as anti-military, it isn't. It calls for using those funds "for the safe and orderly withdrawal of the Armed Forces from Iraq."

Although Rep. McGovern's bill only had 19 co-sponsors (including Rep. Kucinich) at the end of Congress' last session, more Democrats may be moved to take a stand when the next supplemental funding bill comes up as early as February – especially as they hear from their constituents and peace activists.

•In the Senate, according to the New York Times, Senator Edward Kennedy will introduce legislation on Tuesday that would require the President to obtain new authorization from Congress prior to sending any more troops to Iraq. Kennedy urged a quick vote, saying, "The importance of this legislation is that it will apply now before we could get the escalation." He cited Congressional intervention in both Vietnam and Lebanon in calling for his colleagues to take action to stop any escalation in Iraq. One clear ally of Sen. Kennedy's is Sen. Russ Feingold – who, along with Sen. John Kerry, introduced legislation during the last session of Congress for a withdrawal to be completed by July of this year. Feingold told The Times: "My concern now is that too many Democrats are going to want to play it safe on this issue and not take the strong stand that American people demand."

Appeal for Redress – Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, spokesman for the extraordinary movement of active military personnel, reservists, and officers (including "a handful of colonels") seeking withdrawal--says that getting Congressional representatives to explicitly take a stand against the occupation is even more pressing than any debate on funding. Hutto believes that the debate must focus on shifting the policy of this government from one of occupation to "withdrawing all troops and bases from Iraq." Any vote to fund the current policy--whether increasing troop levels, or training Iraqi soldiers, or even funding an Iraqi jobs program with no end to the war in sight--supports the principle of occupation, and to Hutto and his fellow-servicemen and women that is simply unacceptable.

"The first priority needs to be to get the leadership in DC to commit to the principle of withdrawal," Hutto says. "Then we can talk about funding needs."

Sen. George McGovern, who recently met with the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) advises that he would continue funding only in the context of moving towards a withdrawal. His book–-co-authored with former history professor and State Department Middle East expert, William R. Polk--outlines a step-by-step, six-month plan for withdrawal to be completed on or before June 30.

McGovern will present his proposal at the CPC's Capitol Hill Public Forum on Iraq this Friday, January 12 at 9:30 A.M. (345 Cannon House Office Building… and word is that new Iraq legislation will come out of this forum). He stresses the need for a massive reconstruction effort led by Iraqis and largely funded by the United States (at a far cheaper cost than maintaining the occupation); a provision for financing law enforcement contingents from other Muslim or Arab countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia; and reparations to Iraqi civilians for loss of life and property as the British are doing.

"I think [this] is more politically acceptable than simply cutting off funding," McGovern said. "Although, if that's the only thing that will work after trying this more deliberative effort then I would support a funding cutoff. We have to terminate that war in the near term."

Win Without War--a coalition of national organizations advocating for a foreign policy based on international cooperation and enforceable international law – is preparing to join forces with Rep. Murtha in calling for any supplemental to be used only towards a safe and orderly withdrawal. National Director and former Congressman Tom Andrews says, "In response to George Bush's call to escalate the war in Iraq, the message of our campaign will be as simple, direct and as straightforward as possible: NO!" The America Says NO! campaign will utilize local actions, signs, buttons, bumper stickers, flyers, and ads in newspapers and online to communicate this message.

MoveOn is launching an immediate campaign to oppose Bush's escalation and a long-term campaign to force Congress to end the war. It is organizing rallies across the nation, advertising, call-in days, online petitions, and more. Already over 260,000 members have signed MoveOn's petition opposing escalation and made over 8,000 calls to Congress. MoveOn has endorsed the Kennedy bill and – according to Washington Director Tom Matzzie--its message to Democratic leaders is: "Figure it out. Get out of Iraq. All options should be on the table."

Military Families Speak Out--with a membership of over 3,000 military families--is urging citizens to send their Congressional representatives a postcard--"Support Our Troops: De-fund the War!"--to bring the troops home now. And Iraq Veterans Against the War--with members in 41 states, Washington, DC, Canada, and on numerous bases overseas (including Iraq)--is also calling for an end to funding, as well as reparations to Iraqis and full benefits (including mental health) for returning servicemen and women.

Peace Action--with over 28 state affiliates and 100 local chapters across the country--will call on Congress to vote against the supplemental funding bill. But it will also explore with its Congressional allies how the money might be reduced or conditioned. In a statement, Executive Director Kevin Martin said "The question now is, how will the Democratic Congress respond? While they sound skeptical of [Bush's] plan right now, if they refuse to curtail funds in any way and allow Bush to do what he wants, they will become his accomplices in this disastrous war. And the American people will not accept that."

United for Peace and Justice--a coalition of more than 1300 local and national groups--is focused on demonstrating wide antiwar sentiment with March on Washington, DC on January 27 as well as a Congressional Advocacy Day on January 29. UFPJ hopes to have at least one participant from each of the 435 Congressional districts and will "remind Congress why they were elected and demand that they act immediately to end the occupation of Iraq."

While there is still some uncertainty about how to fulfill the mandate of the November election to end this war, peace groups and members of Congress are crafting creative ideas and resolutions to counter a Commander-in-Chief who misled us into a catastrophic conflict and would now recklessly waste more lives and resources in pursuit of his ideological mission and the salvaging of his legacy. It is time to focus on seeking a political resolution, energetic regional diplomacy to contain the civil war, and funding to address this growing humanitarian catastrophe.

And, finally, to find a safe and honorable way home for our troops.

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