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The Power to Shut Down the Iraq War
Published on Wednesday, November 8, 2006 by the Toronto Star
The Power to Shut Down the Iraq War
by Bill Schiller
 

With the death toll in Iraq soaring, prospects for victory dwindling, and a growing number of Americans calling for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's head, small wonder most polls and commentators cited the Iraq war as the No. 1 issue in yesterday's elections.

So will a newly empowered Democratic Party move quickly to end it?

Most analysts say no.

But will there be adjustments?

Many say yes.

Despite an electorate anxious to staunch the bleeding and bring America's troops home exit polls showed nearly six of 10 voters yesterday disapprove of the war a quick and dramatic withdrawal of American troops from Iraq is utterly unlikely, analysts say.

The key reason is simple: the majority of foreign policy-making power in America resides in the executive branch the presidency and not in Congress, the legislative branch comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate.

U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly vowed that there will be no pullout on his watch.

But that's not to say a Democrat-controlled Congress could not put pressure on him. After all, Congress controls the money that turns the wheels of America's military.

"Congress has the power of the purse," explains University of San Francisco political scientist Stephen Zunes. If the Democrats took both the House and the Senate, "they could announce that in 60, 90 or 180 days, no U.S. funds would be allocated for military operations in Iraq."

In theory, they could shut the war down, says Zunes.

As recently as September, Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York warned of that possibility, saying "You've got to be able to pay for the war, don't you?"

And there are precedents for exercising such power:
  • The Cooper-Church Amendment of 1970 forced invading U.S. troops out of Cambodia.
  • The Clark Amendment in 1976 blocked U.S. support for Joseph Savimbi's UNITA movement in Angola, later repealed under Ronald Reagan.
  • In 1990, U.S. aid to El Salvador was cut by 50 per cent after the brutal slaying of Catholic nuns.

In fact, Zunes adds, if the Democrats controlled only the House after yesterday's vote a House they lost, together with the Senate, in 1994 they could still vote down the next budget allocating Iraq war funds.

But would Democrats be willing to suffer the political heat for cutting money for U.S. troops engaged in combat? That's doubtful, he and others say.

Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to be elected the first-ever female speaker of the House if Democrats triumph, has said publicly she will not withhold money from U.S. soldiers in combat.

Analysts also acknowledge the Democrats would prefer to enter the 2008 presidential race with Iraq still in a mess as a result of Republican bungling.

So what can be expected from newly empowered Democrats in control of the House?

There will be hearings and investigations aimed at holding Republicans accountable. They'll seek to:
  • Uncover intelligence failures involving the weapons of mass destruction fiasco.
  • Determine why the Bush administration under-supplied the occupation.
  • Consider new restrictions on lucrative contracts to Bush administration friends and possibly on plans for the construction of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.

In a powerful argument on the Los Angeles Times' op-ed page last week, retired Gen. William Odom stressed that a newly empowered Congress must, at the very least, force a national stock-taking of the war in Iraq. And he cited several bold but practical steps to improve the situation in Iraq and America's stature in the world.

"The U.S. must concede that it has botched things, cannot stabilize the region alone and must let others have a say in what's next," Odom wrote.

His game plan would include withdrawing troops, abandoning unilateralism, creating a diplomatic forum for Iraq's neighbours and even allowing Iran to move ahead with its nuclear plans.

"Accepting Iran's nuclear weapons is a small price to pay for the likely benefits," he said. "No strategy can succeed without these components. We must cut and run tactically in order to succeed strategically."

Such plans, everyone agrees, cannot and will not happen under Bush or perhaps ever.

But they're being discussed.

Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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