“War is over, if you want it,” declared John Lennon in the thick of the Vietnam nightmare. To the extent that Lennon’s “you” referred to the US Congress, he was right, then and now. The House and Senate have the authority to end the war in Iraq quickly, efficiently and honorably. Claims to the contrary by George W. Bush and his apologists are at odds with every intention of the authors of the Constitution. Which part of “Congress shall have the power to declare war… to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces…to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers” does the White House fail to understand? Unfortunately, it may be the same part that cautious Congressional leaders have trouble comprehending.
Democrats gained control of Congress in November with the charge to bring the occupation to a swift conclusion. Yet, as we mark the fourth anniversary of the war, the story of the 110th Congress still seems to be one of an opposition party struggling to come to grips with its authority to upend a President’s misguided policies. Nothing has illustrated the lack of direction so agonizingly as the debates over nonbinding resolutions opposing the troop surge; weeks went into advancing measures that, as their names confirmed, were inconsequential. For a time, it seemed as if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been so effective on the domestic front, was ceding any real leadership role on foreign policy.
With the announcement of spending legislation that includes benchmarks for progress in Iraq, and a plan to begin withdrawing troops if those benchmarks are unmet, Pelosi has begun to define a Democratic opposition to Bush’s policies. But she has not gone nearly far enough. While Democratic leaders are finally arguing for a withdrawal timeline, it is not the right one. Theoretically, the plan would create the potential for withdrawal of some troops in six months. Realistically, because it lacks adequate monitoring mechanisms–Pelosi says determinations about the benchmarks would be a “subjective call”–the best bet is that even if the Democratic plan were to overcome all the hurdles blocking its enactment, there would be no withdrawals for more than a year.
Forcing Americans and Iraqis to die for Bush’s delusions for another year while emptying the Treasury at a rate of more than $1 billion a week is unconscionable. That is why House members who have battled hardest to end the war are so frustrated with Pelosi’s approach. “This plan would require us to believe whatever the President would tell us about progress that was being made,” says Representative Maxine Waters, speaking for the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey has been blunter, saying of the legislation, “There’s no enforcement mechanism.”
Waters and Woolsey are right. While we respect efforts by antiwar Democrats like Jim McDermott and Jerrold Nadler to negotiate with Pelosi in hopes of improving the legislation, conservative Blue Dog Democrats have already signaled that the price of their support will be the removal of any teeth put into the plan by progressives. Worse, they have tampered with the legislation in ways that may even encourage Bush’s interventionist tendencies: The Democratic proposal for a timeline originally included a provision that would have required Bush to seek Congressional approval before using military force against Iran. But under pressure from conservative members of her caucus and lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Pelosi removed the language. By first including the provision and then removing it, Pelosi and her aides have given Bush an opening to claim that he does not require Congressional approval for a wider war.