An Iraq vet named Charlie Anderson told me that he likes to get his photo taken with senators and House members, and then have his friend fiddle with the camera, so that Charlie gets to talk while the elected official has to stand there and smile. And this is what Charlie says: "Congressman, I work every day to try to end this war. You only talk about it. I'd like it if we switched roles: you do something, and I'll talk about what you're doing."
Thus far, any senators and House members taking Charlie up on his offer are not part of the leadership of either major party. Congressional leaders have elevated talking above action to the extent that many on Capitol Hill are now apparently incapable of distinguishing one from the other.
On Tuesday, the House is beginning a lengthy debate—not on ending the war by stopping the funding, not even on asking the President to end the war, not even on a partial withdrawal or a lengthy timetable for gradual withdrawal, not even on redeployment. All of these topics will be raised, but Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi intends the debate to address the question of escalating the war—specifically, a meaningless nonbinding resolution "opposing" escalating the war. Democrats had spent two years focusing their attention on November 7, and as soon as the vote was in, they immediately forgot the message of the election.
Of course, it could be worse. Just look at the Senate, where the debate is over whether or not to have a debate on a nonbinding resolution that "opposes" the escalation while affirming eternal support for the war. This is a sad state of affairs for a Senate in which a strong majority of members claims to oppose the escalation. But the escalation has already happened, and the White House is focusing on the next war.
A growing number of representatives favor real action. The 71-member Progressive Caucus favors ending the war in six months. Congress members Lynn Woolsey of California, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Jerrold Nadler of New York each have bills that would use the power of the purse to end the war. (In the Senate, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has a bill to do the same.) Last week, Pelosi assured Congresswomen Woolsey, Barbara Lee of California and Maxine Waters of California that committees would soon address these and other bills opposing the war, and that the sponsors of the bills would be given time to discuss them during weekly Democratic Caucus meetings.
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If members of Congress could hear the public's reaction during the endless speeches this week, more members would find the nerve to do more than talk. Toward that end, numerous peace organizations, including United for Peace and Justice and Progressive Democrats of America, are promoting a national call-in day today. The After Downing Street coalition sent out this message:
De-Escalate! Investigate! Ask your Congress member to oppose the escalation and support Woolsey's, McGovern's, or Nadler's bill to stop funding the war. And tell your Congress member you want an investigation into the lies that were used to launch this war. Phone and fax numbers for your Congress member: http://www.democrats.com/congress.
Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are big proponents of an idea they credit to the Republicans, but which they themselves repeat more than anyone else in Washington: the idea that ending the war by defunding it will somehow harm U.S. troops. What will harm U.S. troops is keeping them in Iraq. Bringing them home will keep them alive. And the money needed to bring them home is minimal in comparison with the funds being used to keep them there.
McGovern has rewritten his bill, and Nadler and Woolsey have specifically written their bills to address the nonsensical idea that by bringing the troops home Congress would be putting them in harm's way. Nadler's bill avoids the charge of "cutting off funds" by instead limiting funds to only two uses: 1) Protecting troops, and 2) Withdrawing. The first of the two is simply in there to repel the Pelosi-Reid argument. The only meaningful way to protect the troops is to withdraw them.
If none of these bills pass in the next month or two, Congress will have a choice of ending the war or funding its continuation by means of an emergency supplemental spending bill. (There's another one of these "emergency" bills already in the works for 2008.) If the Democrats can't manage to defeat that bill, they can attach amendments to it that limit the funds to withdrawal or otherwise improve the bill. But Pelosi and Congressman John Murtha are aiming quite low. Murtha has proposed including a provision banning the Pentagon from sending troops without adequate training and equipment. This is, of course, supposed to be a "pro-troop" proposal. But it's secretly supposed to, almost accidentally, end the war, because Murtha claims no units meet the requirement.
I never thought I'd quote former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld without irony, but here it goes: You have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want. If you're going to keep up the pretense that an illegal war based on lies is acceptable and necessary, then you can't reasonably hold back troops because they aren't properly prepped. And if you're going to try to end the war, the best way to do that is by ending the war. The Constitution gives the power to end wars to Congress. There are 535 people on the planet who can do something to end this war beyond talking about it.
And it may only require 41 of them. If a Senator can begin a filibuster of funding for the war, only 41 Senators will have to find the decency to join together for peace and reelection. But that's down the road, a road that looks likely to be altered by a U.S. attack on Iran. This week is dedicated to talking things over, at a cost of at least $500,000 of war and untold deaths and injuries per five-minute congressional speech.
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