History was made on February 27 when for the first time Big Labor formally broke with a sitting President’s war policy. By unanimous vote, the executive council of the AFL-CIO, representing America’s 13 million unionized workers, approved a resolution stating, “The president has not fulfilled his responsibility to make a compelling and coherent explanation to the American people and the world about the need for military action against Iraq at this time.”
Labor’s enlistment into the cause of peace came as thousands of Americans jammed fax and phone lines in a “Virtual March on Washington,” and as college and high school students planned a March 5 event that saw walkouts of classes across the country. The list of cities, including most recently Los Angeles, that have gone on record against the war now numbers more than a hundred. Resistance to the drive for war also stiffened in Europe, where–even after its government was offered what amounted to a multibillion-dollar bribe, the Turkish Parliament voted to prohibit US troops from using its soil as a staging area. In Paris the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia said they would “not allow” passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution that would be used as an authorization for war.
George W. Bush, however, seems unfazed. As Iraq was complying with UN inspectors’ demands to destroy its Al Samoud missiles, he went on national TV to ratchet up the war rhetoric. In an updated version of the White Man’s Burden, Bush shifted his rationale for war away from disarmament and argued that it is the moral duty of America to liberate Iraq and usher in a new era of regional democracy–albeit at gunpoint. Meanwhile, attempting to secure the fig leaf of UN approval for its war plans by any means necessary, the Administration went so far as to deploy a massive surveillance and phone-tap scheme, spying on UN diplomats from countries whose votes are needed.
Despite such behavior, Congress remains, for the most part, a mute bystander. One exception is a lawsuit brought by a dozen members, along with serving soldiers and parents of troops, that seeks to bar the President from ordering an attack on Iraq without a Congressional declaration of war. After being dismissed by a lower court, the suit was given respectful attention by a three-judge appeals court panel in Boston, which heard oral arguments on March 4 and asked for briefs in the case. In the Senate, senior Democrats Robert Byrd and Edward Kennedy have sponsored resolutions that call on the Administration to continue support of UN weapons inspections and express the sense of the Senate that the President must return to Congress for a second vote before initiating the use of force. In the House, legislation sponsored by Democrat Peter DeFazio and Republican Ron Paul to repeal last October’s authorization of force has attracted thirty-five co-sponsors. Elsewhere on the political landscape, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and Congressman Dennis Kucinich are finding support for their presidential peace candidacies.
While none of the Congressional initiatives have received much public attention, the bum economy, stagnating in part because of investors’ war jitters, has caught the attention of just about everyone. No surprise, then, that support for Bush’s 2004 election has fallen below 50 percent for the first time. That Bush’s presidency could face the same end as his father’s is little recompense for the damage this war would wreak on democratic principles.