In the end, George W. Bush got Congress to approve the $87 billion he insisted on for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. But the fact that 137 members of Congress–twelve in the Senate and 125 in the House–voted against the appropriation suggests a growing disquiet about the folly of the Administration’s pre-emptive war and the dangerous failings of its postwar planning.
In the Senate, where a majority including eight Republicans demanded, over the President’s objections, that part of the money be designated as a loan rather than a gift (in effect a warning against further massive expenditures), Ted Kennedy spoke for those who rejected the notion that voting for the bill equated with patriotism. “A no vote is not a vote against supporting our troops,” he said. “It is a vote to send the Administration back to the drawing board. It is a vote for a new policy–[a] policy worthy of the sacrifice our soldiers are making.” In the House, John Conyers, who as a freshman in 1965 was one of seven members to vote against President Johnson’s request for more money for Vietnam, noted that the $87 billion is “on top of the $67 billion already spent, and there is no end in sight.”
Although Bush’s threat to use his veto if the House goes along with the Senate’s loan provision virtually guarantees it won’t be included in the bill’s final version, the House’s overwhelming (but nonbinding) endorsement of the idea reflects the worries of legislators who, amid a struggling economy and rising US casualties, are being asked hard questions by their constituents. GOP Representative Frank LoBiondo told the Washington Post that among voters in his New Jersey district, “there’s no question about supporting the troops, but I do get questions about the money on top of that.” The Post noted that a growing number of Republican officeholders are trying to distance themselves from the President, afraid he might harm their re-election chances next year.
Even more striking are the voices of spouses and other relatives of troops stationed in Iraq. In this issue, Karen Houppert quotes the wife of an Army Reserve engineer as saying she was warned by another wife that she was “aiding terrorism” by speaking out. Her reply: “That would be our President–the one who is leaving our soldiers there as sitting ducks.”
Meanwhile, opposition to the Administration’s policies continues in the international community. After the United Nations Security Council adopted a US-British resolution effectively endorsing the occupation, the UN representatives of Russia, France and Germany were quick to assert that they wouldn’t come up with any money or soldiers.
The Administration’s response to these developments has been twofold: On the one hand, it denies there are any problems, and, on the other, it moves behind the scenes to address them. Thus the announcement of a new UN-World Bank trust fund that could be the recipient of donations from countries that refuse to give money directly to the United States but feel an obligation to assist in rebuilding Iraq. Thus, too, the reports that the Pentagon is planning troop withdrawals from Iraq next year, which could be seen as indicating that if all else fails, the Administration may simply abandon Iraq in time for the election.
There are, as we have said before, no good solutions to the current mess in Iraq. We can only hope that as the disquiet on the home front grows, the Administration will be compelled to cede increasing authority to the UN and to a sovereign Iraqi government as quickly as possible, and that with the discrediting of the Administration’s policies, voters next year will send Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld and Cheney to join the ranks of the unemployed.