After his party's dramatic defeat on November 7, George W. Bush seemed, however briefly, to recognize that his Iraq policy wasn't working. He fired Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary, promised to take the Iraq Study Group's report "very seriously" and pledged to work with the new Congress. But his speech January 10 announcing an escalation of the US occupation of Iraq confirms that Bush's "new way forward" is just more of the same, and that his contemptuous disregard of the will of the people and their elected representatives is unchanged.
The President's escalation, set to begin January 15, is the first test of the new Congress. The American people voted to get our troops out of Iraq, not dug deeper in, and it is up to Congress to see that it is done. Democratic leaders announced before Bush's speech that they would offer House and Senate resolutions opposing the escalation. And even though that escalation may be under way by the time Congress acts, and even though the resolution is nonbinding, it can still serve as a highly public rebuke to an imperial White House.
Some Democrats, most notably Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, are peddling the notion that "as a practical matter, there is no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop.'" But in fact, the opposite is true. A report by the Center for American Progress makes clear that past Congresses have curtailed or ended military deployments. The report notes, for example, that in 1983 the Lebanon Emergency Assistance Act required the President to return to seek authorization if he wished to expand the size of the US contingent in Lebanon. Congress has also acted to cut war funding. In 1970, the report notes, the Supplemental Foreign Assistance Law "prohibited the use of any funds for the introduction of US troops to Cambodia."
While resolutions opposing a troop increase are useful, the Democrats must follow them up with concrete measures that directly challenge Bush's war policy. Jack Murtha, chair of the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, has vowed to comb through the Administration's upcoming $100 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq and "fence the funding"--potentially redirecting money from a troop increase toward redeployment. Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will shortly introduce a six-month proposal for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq.
Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Ed Markey have introduced legislation that would require Congressional approval of any troop increase above the total in Iraq as of January 9. Kennedy said in a speech that same day that it's time for Congress to reassert its "rightful role" in deciding war policy. Noting the similarity between Bush's justification for adding more troops and that used for a similar increase in Vietnam, Kennedy recalled discussion of a commitment to "help to lay the cornerstone for a diverse and independent Asia" and to "stay the course." "That is not President Bush speaking," said Kennedy. "It is President Lyndon Johnson, forty years ago, ordering a hundred thousand more American soldiers to Vietnam."
Even if Congress is ultimately unable to prevent the troop increase, a series of hearings, votes and resolutions can confront the President on his strategy and can lay the groundwork for the larger battle of ending the war.
Pressure is growing on Congress to act. A coalition of peace groups, led by Win Without War, is planning a series of protests across the country. On Martin Luther King Day, the Appeal to Redress, calling for withdrawal and signed by close to 1,000 current members of the military, will be presented to Congress. And on January 27, United for Peace and Justice will mount an antiwar rally in Washington. "A clear response from the American people will shore up support in the Congress," says former Congressman and Win Without War national director Tom Andrews.
Ratcheting up the pressure on Congress is urgent. Blocking the escalation is the first step toward bringing the troops home.